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Why Do Fools Fall In Love

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Why Do Fools Fall In Love

Starring: Halle Berry, Vivica Fox
Director: Gregory Nava
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: August 1998
Genres: Drama, Music

*Also starring: Lela Rochon, Larenz Tate, Paul Mazursky, Little Richard, Pamela Reed, Ben Vereen

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When Joseph Smith urged Mormon men to take many wives, he did so because he believed in rescuing bodies in limbo waiting to be born. But bigamy is a no-no, contrary to the laws of the fifty United States, a prohibition which gives a platform to Gregory Nava's movie "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." "Fools" is a movie with lots of pizazz, edgy performances, and many humorous turns focusing on a court case involving a young man who took three wives, each of whom was in the dark about her real status. Nava, suiting Tina Andrews's script to the wide screen, sorts the movie into two area: one, the stories told in court by the three women about their relationship with the man of their dreams; the other, the uneven career of teenage sensation Frankie Lymon, who made a smash debut at the age of thirteen with his de-wop hit, "Why Do Fools Falls in Love." We come away from the movie more fully understanding why so many celebrities have taken to drink and drugs--not so much because they're available and affordable with their high salaries and royalities, but more because they cannot endure the tedium off the stage, away from the enormous high they get from the hysterical cheers of their rabid fans. In Frankie Lymon's case, his death from a heroin overdose at the age of twenty-five was brought on by a more permanent recess from the showbiz platforms: when his do-wop style of singing went out of fashion, buried by the Beatles, by the Motown sound, and by the unique style of Jimi Hendrix, his career was over. Watching others make good while he was out pounding the streets and scorned by his producer, he fell into a funk that could be alleviated only by heroin. We identify with him not because we are dopeheads or because we've had spectacular careers pleasing the teeming crowds. But we know how it feels to be out of favor, out of a job, disregarded by those who mean something to us.

When photographer Ed Lachman shifts in the final scene to a black-and-white cut of the actual Frankie Lymon performing the title song at the age of thirteen, the singer seems even smaller and younger than we expect. Given the rudimentary camerawork at the time and the absence of knock-'em-dead sound systems, he looks like nothing special. Larenz Tate, a handsome actor who has turned in spellbinding performances in movies like "Menace II Society" and "Dead Presidents" makes the '50's singer larger than life, one whose appeal to women of all races is perfectly understandable. Lip-synching to "Fools" and especially to Johnny Mercer and Matt Malneck's wonderful song "Goody Goody," Tate chews up the scenery in the generous number of clips featuring his appearances before screaming, hand-clapping crowds of most young whites. In one such performance for live TV, a blond teenaged girl leaps to the stage and begins jitterbugging with the singer. While it's difficult for us in the '90's to believe, the show was cancelled because Lymon was "dancing with a white girl." The electricity in the air is so palpable each time Tate takes on the role of Lymon on the concert stage that we wonder how do-wop could ever have gone out of fashion.

The principal action, however, takes place in the courtroom of Judge Lambrey (Pamela Reed), who is hearing a case brought against Lymon's estate by the three women who claimed they were his wives. The women are so different from one another that while we have no doubt that all were captivated by the charismatic singer, we wonder how they all appealed equally to Lymon. Zola (Halle Berry) seemed his obvious choice. A successful performer with the Platters, she is all showbiz glamour with obvious common ground with her husband. Elizabeth (Vivica F. Fox), however, seems cheap, a petty thief who spent time in jail for shoplifting stupid items like perfume, but one who is willing to sell her body on the streets to raise money for her beloved. Emira (Lela Rochon) is taken in by the man's charm like the others, but what would Lymon want with a high-school English teacher, a prissy one at that?

As the women tell their stories in turn, trying to convince the court that each has the primary claim on the estate. they take us through Frankie's brief career, though (unfortunately for the clarity of the story) not in chronological order. He begins his calling with a group that take on the name the Teenagers and becomes its head. They wholly impress a record producer, Morris Levy (Paul Mazursky), who signs them up but, as we learn toward the very end of the story, rips them off by grabbing for himself an unfair share of the royalties (he is actually listed along with Lymon as the writer of the title song). When the number of gigs goes down to zero because of changing styles, Frankie becomes desperate, shoots drugs and gets into trouble with the pushers whom he cannot pay, and though his name is still recognizable by the American people he approaches his mid-twenties, he is out of the limelight for so long that he might as well be dead.

Nava generously allows us to see Lymon relating in turn to each of his wives, in one case having to break up a catfight between two of them in Zola's lavish California home when she discovers Elizabeth in his arms in Zola's own pool.

Of the three women, we probably root for Emira to win the case. She is the girl scout of the threesome, one who is so unused to alcohol that when the two other women have her unwittingly drink a concoction known as Long Island iced tea, she loses her chillout and carries on outrageously with her courtroom enemies. Halle Berry looks stunning as always though with an excellent make-up, wig, and costume job she appears 15 or 20 years older than she did in "Bulworth." Paul Mazursky is fine as the conniving record producer who probably symbolizes the stature of quite a few in his profession at the time--people who cynically stole millions from their trusting clients through mischievous contracts. Larenz Tate, though, is the showstealer, looking enchanting when in the height of his powers and a miserable wreck when down and out.

When we learn at the conclusion what has happened to Lymon's estate, it's as though we knew it all along. The lawyers do the collecting, the clients are the pawns. Ironically, the film will probably not be seen the kids who are the prime audience for the cinema in general, those who are the same age as the hero of the story. It takes place in an era they'd consider ancient history and deals with a singer whose career was over so quickly that few are likely to recognize the name.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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