The Los Angeles Film Festival ended Thursday night on a high note (a really high note, in fact) at LA Live with the premiere of Clint Eastwood‘s movie version of the smash Broadway jukebox musical, Jersey Boys which has been running nearly a decade — and with no end in sight. The film, which I thought was terrific but very different from what I saw on stage, will almost certainly goose the sales of the play. The conventional wisdom used to be that when a movie came out, the live show was toast. But in recent years Chicago, The Phantom Of The Opera, Mamma Mia!, and even Rock Of Ages have flourished on Broadway long after their film counterparts have come and gone. I expect no different from Jersey Boys; in this case there might even be more interest since both are really different animals telling the same story. And what a story it is. So far, critical reaction has been divided down the middle, but I guess it all depends on your life experience. Eastwood isn’t exactly known for doing musicals (and let’s not remember his acting role in 1970’s flop Broadway transfer Paint Your Wagon, where he sang “to the trees”). But he has a strong musical sense (having directed the Charlie Parker biopic, Bird and scored many of his own films as well as being a well-known jazz aficionado). This story of the rise to stardom of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons from the tough neighborhoods of Jersey has been given grit and gravitas in this version, a much darker and more authentic take than the feel-good stage edition.
Eastwood and his cast (largely unknowns to the movie audience other than a wonderful supporting turn from Oscar winner Christopher Walken as a local Jersey Godfather) were out in force at the Regal Cinemas for the Warner Bros premiere of the film, opening on over 2,900 screens Friday. Warners domestic distribution head Dan Fellman tells me he knows they will not come close to grosses for the Sony sequel Think Like A Man Too, but expect the film to play nicely week after week as word of mouth gets around. “Clint’s movies tend to start out older and then slowly get younger as they go along,” he told me. If you were to judge by tonight’s LA Film Fest crowd, the word of mouth should be very good, and as Fellman says, it is really the only strong adult film in the marketplace for a while (a sad but true comment in a summer full of explosions). For his part, Eastwood was in high spirits, staying late at the after-party and taking lots of compliments. He’s an incredible filmmaker at age 84 with not just this movie, but another, American Sniper starring Bradley Cooper, in the can as well. Warners’ President of World Wide Marketing and International Distribution Sue Kroll told me that film will likely be released in fourth quarter 2015. “The release date is still being determined,” she said.
Still Warners has a pretty full Academy slate after two very successful years in a row with 2012 Best Picture winner Argo and 2013’s Gravity which picked up seven Oscars, along with an Original Screenplay win for Her and two other Oscars for The Great Gatsby. Kroll says the year looks good, including Paul Thomas Anderson’s much-anticipated Inherent Vice. “You’re gonna love it. It’s the most wonderful movie,” says Kroll. “So entertaining, so smart, so fun. I think its different for him but it’s a masterpiece. I love it — I think it’s my favorite movie of his except Magnolia. And The Judge is a beautiful movie with Robert Downey and Robert Duvall. And This Is Where I Leave You (Sept 12). I think that movie really works.” I have seen that one, with wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda, and I would agree. I spoke with both Kroll and Fellman about Tom Cruise’s Edge Of Tomorrow which had a slower start than anticipated but also had a much lower drop in its second weekend than The Fault In Our Stars, indicating audiences may slowly be discovering it. Cruise gives a real-movie star performance in this one. “I’m really hopeful,” Kroll said.
As for Jersey Boys , Kroll is a fan. “There’s something about the movie. It’s very contagious, infectious. I know all the music, of course, but I think even for people who don’t, if you know the show, great and if you don’t, I think it still works.” This one could get an awards-season boost by scoring in the Comedy or Musical category at the Golden Globes. And it didn’t go the usual route of casting stars. Eastwood chose its original Tony-winning lead John Lloyd Young to reprise his role of Valli and he delivers, as does the whole cast, particularly Vincent Piazza as a small-time criminal turned singing star in a supporting role worthy of award consideration. Eastwood got a well-deserved standing ovation when introduced to the crowd. “I guess (1964’s) A Fistful Of Dollars closed the Cannes Film Festival this year and now this film is gonna close this one,” he noted drily. “I hope we’re not setting a bad trend of closing theaters. But there’s a 50 years difference, which I guess means if you hang around long enough good things can happen.” He singled out the cast for its talent and experience in going from stage to screen. “So people are asking why didn’t we put some pseudo-Hollywood name in it,” he said. “I figure if the picture doesn’t work, nothing works and you don’t need a name.” It works.
After originating the role on Broadway and winning the Tony, Younglater returned to the role in 2012, which is when Eastwood saw him. Young had me at hello at the after-party. “I am a little Deadline-addicted, for better or for worse, although sometimes those comments can be pretty brutal,” he laughed. It’s very rare for an actor, with no film profile or experience, to get this kind of opportunity to recreate a role on film, but Young clearly was up on his trivia when I asked him about it. “Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick were stars already when they recreated their roles in The Producers. You know who has a real good track record in that in Hollywood history? Warner Bros. Robert Preston in The Music Man, Ellen Greene in Little Shop Of Horrors, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, although they weren’t nice to (Harrison’s Broadway co-star) Julie Andrews on that one,” he said of several original stage stars who made the transition to the screen. I added Gwen Verdon in Damn Yankees (1958), but more often than not that isn’t the case. But Young was really happy to dig deeper into Valli’s psyche this time, more than he got to do on stage. “When I found out that Clint was going to do it, I knew that sort of the underbelly story that I always wished I could get into deeper on stage would come to the forefront, and boy, did it. I know the real Frankie Valli and he’s not a happy-go-lucky guy. That kind of allowed me to just explore those territories. It’s very rare in Hollywood that a director has the clout to cast all unknowns because he wants them. And to be wanted by Clint Eastwood, and then be chosen by Clint Eastwood, I am speaking for all my colleagues in saying we will never forget that ever,” he said.