WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE?
I can understand why screenwriter Tina Andrews latched onto the story
behind Why Do Fools Fall in Love for fifteen years. From a
commercial standpoint, it has a great hook: the real-life story of
three women who all claimed to be the legal widow of Frankie Lymon,
who led the 1950s doo-wop group the Teenagers to several hit songs,
including the one from which the film draws its title. From a writer's
standpoint, it offers the intriguing contradiction of its main
character, a troubled soul who seemed to be three different people
to his three different brides before dying of a drug overdose in 1968.
It's a story with sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, as well as colorful
characters a-plenty. Sure enough, this bio-pic offers loads of curb
Unfortunately, Andrews made a big mistake in her approach to the
material - she decided to turn Why Do Fools Fall in Love into a rock
'n' roll Rashomon. The framing story opens in 1986, with three women
- former Platters singer Zola Taylor (Halle Berry), petty thief and
single mom Elizabeth Waters (Vivica A. Fox), and schoolteacher Emira
Eagle (Lela Rochon) - all making the legal claim to be Mrs. Frankie
Lymon, with rights to his musical royalties. A hearing commences in
which each claimant tells the story of Frankie (Larenz Tate) as she
knew him, from teen star to has-been, from heroin addict to soldier.
The flashbacks cover 13 years of Frankie's life, with widely varying
perspectives on the complex man each of the three women married at
some point during that span, but none of them divorced.
Somewhere buried in the narrative is an interesting, if somewhat
clichÃ©d, entertainment industry life story, the story of a street
kid from an abusive home who becomes dependent on the love he receives
from audiences and his women. Larenz Tate does a fine job of
re-creating Frankie's electrifying stage presence, as well as his
sheer joy of performing. In fact, the high-energy performance scenes
are generally the film's best, re-creating the era's innocent
enthusiasm and classy look contrasted with Frankie's bolder charisma
and sex appeal. Tate also has the thankless job of creating a
character out of piecemeal recollections, yet the character still
comes together as someone you might want to know more about.
If only wanting made it so. Only occasionally does Why Do Fools
Fall in Love hone in on the question of who Frankie Lymon really was.
Too often Andrews and director Gregory Nava (Selena) take off on
ill-advised tangents - a vamping, self-indulgent cameo appearance by
Little Richard as himself; the hit-and-run accusation that Frankie's
manager Morris Levy (Paul Mazursky) cheated him out of millions; a
broadly comic female bonding session which turns Zola, Elizabeth and
Emira into the First, Second and Third Wives' Club. When they finally
do get around to Frankie himself, the answers they offer are as
psychologically convenient as the shattered mirror in which Frankie
sees his fragmented face in one scene. Ultimately no one, not even
the three women with whom he shared a life, seems interested in
understanding Frankie. It's easier to dismiss him as a messed-up
junkie con man and get on with carving up his estate.
That's what is most disappointing about Why Do Fools Fall in Love?:
it's not really the biography of Frankie Lymon at all. Andrews and
Nava are more interested in getting inside the heads of the three women
- making them all sympathetic, mis-used you-go-girls - than getting
inside Frankie's head. Sure, they violate point of view when it serves
their purposes (showing things none of the narrators could have seen),
but mostly they're interested in pointing out how Frankie's enigmatic
behavior hurt others, not how he hurt himself. It's a cop-out for
film-makers to start telling a character's story, then shrug their
shoulders and claim not to have any idea who that character is.
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