Having cut his musical biography teeth on the big screen story detailing the life and death of Latino superstar Selena, director Gregory Nava continues in that vein by focusing on the life and similarly untimely death of Frankie Lymon. While moderately entertaining simply for the music and nostalgic look back to the heyday of doowop, the film often feels very disjointed, haphazard, and occasionally suffers from overacting from its attractive and talented cast.
For those wondering exactly who Lymon was, he fronted the popular 1950's doowop group, The Teenagers, and lent his falsetto-like voice to hits such as "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and "Goody Goody." A victim of his own success and greedy promoters/managers, Lymon's life was destroyed by a combination of heavy drug use and rock n' roll's transition away from the doowop sound.
Interestingly, Nava -- who also helmed "Mi Familia" -- has chosen to detail yet another talented performer who perished while still quite young. Unlike Selena who was slain on her way up the ladder of success, however, Lymon was well on his way down and such disappointment and tragedy can often set the stage for some good drama.
Yet where "Selena" took a chronological look at that young singer's life (and featured a great performance from Jennifer Lopez), this film takes a different approach by seeing Lymon's life through the eyes of three different and very distinct women he married during a short span of several years.
While that's an intriguing way to explore a true event, Nava and first time screenwriter Tina Andrews have crafted a story that too often suffers from haphazard pacing and construction. The "present day" courtroom scenes (actually set in the 1980's) have little congruity and serve mainly as a way to show the three women some twenty years later, and as a springboard to introduce the individual flashback scenes. Instead of retelling the same story from three vantage points -- which would seem to be the obvious route -- the story simply allows the women to see that Lymon wasn't the same man with, or to, all three.
While some of those moments set back in the 1950's and 60's are often very well done and individually entertaining and charming, they don't exactly make for a well executed or narratively strong story. Even so, one can't but help enjoy the early concert scenes and the toe-tapping rhythms of the original recordings (to which Tate and others lip synch) from that earlier, more innocent era of rock n' roll.
The performances are okay for the most part, and the attractive cast certainly makes the film easy on the eye. Nonetheless, some momentary, but quite serious overacting too obviously stands out and detracts from the overall experience.
Having to play two separate ages spanning twenty plus years, Halle Berry ("Bulworth," "B.A.P.S."), Vivica A. Fox ("Independence Day," "Soul Food"), and Lela Rochon ("Waiting to Exhale," "The Big Hit") are decent enough and mostly enjoyable, but never quite seem sure whether to play their roles seriously or for camp. Whenever they get into the "cat fight" scenario and then later bond into some variation of the first wives club (here it would be the "simultaneous wives club"), however, all seriousness is immediately thrown out the window.
Larenz Tate ("The Postman," "Love Jones") doesn't have that same problem and is appropriately bubbly and energetic in his on-stage recreations. Even so, he isn't given sufficient material away from the numbers to allow us inside his character -- beyond the obvious superficial qualities commonly displayed in fallen idols -- to really know what made Lymon tick and ultimately self- destruct.
That constitutes what's probably the film's biggest problem. Not really a true biographical piece, and lacking any compelling mystery or enough campy qualities to make it fun and interesting, the film too often changes direction and subsequently never feels like a cohesive piece.
Bits of it are entertaining, and Nava easily captures the lighthearted spirit of the doowop years, but overall the film feels like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are all there, but they haven't been assembled to make a smooth or pretty picture. Therefore, we give "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" just a 4 out of 10.