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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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Edward Johnson-Ott review follows movie review
2.  MrBrown read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
3.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewvideo review
4.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1 star out of 4

Traditionally, the last few weeks of summer trigger the release of an avalanche of weak films from the major studios, as the powers that be desperately try to squeeze whatever money they can from moviegoers still hungry for air-conditioned diversion. While most of these leftovers lack ideas or a distinctive point of view, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" suffers from the opposite problem. Presenting the biography of singer Frankie Lymon, writer Tina Andrews and director Gregory Nava juggle too many ideas and points of view, resulting in a film that, while sporadically entertaining, mostly serves as a frustrating example of disjointed storytelling and missed opportunities.

The film prominently features a court battle between three women over the estate of Lymon, their late husband. Beneath that elaborate framing device lies your basic rags-to-riches-to-disaster pop music tale. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers hit the big-time in the late '50s with the film's title song, a catchy doo-wop number which remains a staple of oldies stations. Lymon became a star and went solo, falling into a life of womanizing and drugs, leading towards the inevitable downfall.

We've seen variations of this story before (in "The Buddy Holly Story," "La Bamba" and "The Doors," to name just a few), but Lymon's situation contains relatively fresh thematic potential. The phenomenon of rock and roll was manufactured by white businessmen by stealing rhythm and blues from the people who created it. For years, they made stars of white singers covering songs originally written and performed by black artists. When black performers were finally allowed to take their place in the mainstream spotlight, it was only under the rigid control of white management.

Lymon was one of many artists marginalized due to race. Having achieved fame against the odds, he then found his star fading as the '60s British Invasion hit, making all other forms of music passť. Once again, young white kids ruled the charts with sounds derived from black musicians. "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" becomes quite interesting when examining this theme. Indeed, one of the film's most poignant scenes comes on the stage of the pop music show "Hullabaloo," as Lymon stands in the wings, staring in astonishment as The Kinks perform before a screaming crowd, while he waits to appear as an "oldies" act.

Lymon's attempts to maintain a career in an entertainment world where race and rapidly changing musical tastes work against him makes compelling viewing, but the production only devotes a few minutes to that. Director Nava is so busy navigating through the film's convoluted structure that he fails to deal with the issues raised by the story. The women's court battle should have been a mere framing device, but instead it takes over the film. In the height of irony, Frankie Lymon becomes a marginal figure in his own biography.

Over the course of its 117 minutes, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" tries to be several different movies. It's a man-bashing, female bonding flick as the three ex-wives discuss Lymon's flaws. It's a glossy bio-pic using spinning newspapers to flash headlines as it shows Lymon's meteoric climb to stardom in a dreamy retro-world. It's a melodramatic soap opera, showing the singer's abusive behavior as drugs swallow his being. It's a sassy courtroom comedy, with judge Pamela Reed allowing ex-wives Halle Berry, Vivica A. Fox and Lela Rochon to act more like guests on "The Jerry Springer Show" than plaintiffs in a court case.

Mostly, it's a superficial mish-mash of styles and tones that frequently entertains, but never fully satisfies. The songs are good and Larenz Tate gives an energetic performance as Lymon. There are a number of effective scenes, and it's a treat watching Little Richard play himself on the witness stand in a memorable cameo, testifying in both the legal and evangelical sense of the word. What a shame that age prevented him from playing himself throughout the film, because the actor portraying Little Richard as a young man is terrible (an actor imitating Redd Foxx and stand-ins for The Kinks are even less convincing).

Structural problems and bad impressionists aside, the fatal flaw is in the framing story itself. By focusing on the ex-wives instead of Lymon, viewers are asked to become emotionally involved with three characters squabbling over a dead man's money. As the film progresses and the women turn increasingly mercenary, sympathizing with their plight becomes extremely difficult. It's like being led outside to see a horse, then being presented with its carcass and urged to cheer for the vultures circling overhead.

At the end of the film, a picture of the real Frankie Lymon appears onscreen and I was struck by two things. First, he looked much younger than the actor who played him and second, after watching a film purportedly devoted to his memory, Frankie Lymon remained a stranger, just another rock and roll casualty, even in his own movie.

Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott

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