Why Do Fools Fall in Love

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Gregory Nava

REVIEWED: 09-08-98

Frankie Lymon's story was among the most mystifying and tragic in rock history. Possessed of a magical voice and amazing athletic ability, this singer parlayed his talents into superstardom at an early age. His group, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, are best remembered for their biggest hit, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," a crossover smash in 1956. The song went on to influence numerous other artists, songwriters, and producers, including Little Anthony, Stevie Wonder, Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, and Michael Jackson.

At 13, Lymon was on top; he was essentially finished at 17, due in large part to an ill-fated decision to break from the group. The rest of his life was desultory, marked by failed comebacks and multiple marriages, from which he never obtained legal divorces. In 1968, Lymon died at the age of 25, and his estate became the source of court fights that continued for the next 20 years among the surviving band members and the three women who claimed to be his wife.

The court battle between the three women forms the basis of Gregory Nava's film Why Do Fools Fall in Love, which tells Lymon's story through three often compelling flashbacks, each from a different widow's viewpoint. First wife Vivica A. Fox spins a yarn about a charming soul undone by drug addiction. Wife number two, Halle Berry, profiles a gifted vocalist unable to face musical and lifestyle changes. The third, Lela Rochon, unveils an over-the-hill performer, fresh out of the Army, who wants to settle down and be a faithful husband but can't overcome the urge to return to the stage.

Each portrait serves as a showcase for Larenz Tate, who's visually compelling and often magnificent as Lymon. Tate smoothly and effectively keeps the dramatic focus shifting as he moves from hero to villain, from comedy to tragedy, unable to overcome the twin demons of weakness and ego.

Those unfamiliar with Lymon's story will probably find Why Do Fools Fall in Love most satisfying; the courtroom scenes featuring the wives' testimonies are hilarious, and Little Richard's cameos are outrageous. The interaction between Fox, Berry, Rochon, and Tate is wonderful, running the gamut from slapstick to riveting emotion. We come away understanding both Lymon's charm and the degree to which his ultimately fatal flaws hurt those who loved him.

Since this film is billed as a dramatization, some historical license was inevitable; still, some errors are too big to overlook. For instance, it wasn't the group's manager, Morris Levy (superbly played by Paul Mazursky), who convinced Lymon to leave the Teenagers; it was label owner George Goldner. Nor were the wives the only people trying to get a piece of Lymon's estate: Surviving members of the Teenagers also went to court. And not only did Levy put his name on "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," at least six others have claimed authorship of the song since Lymon's death.

The audience gets graphic evidence of the film's greatest discrepancy at the end, when footage of the real Lymon starts rolling before the credits. Larenz Tate is a wonderful actor, but no amount of makeup can make a 30-year-old man look 13, and in the early scenes involving the Teenagers, he looks about as much like Frankie Lymon as Bill Cosby does. Still, since Hollywood has never cared about accuracy in its biographic portrayals, Tate and his gifted trio of actresses acquit themselves well in this entertaining, if often fantasized, look at a tragic icon of early rock and R&B.

--Ron Wynn

Full Length Reviews
Why Do Fools Fall in Love

Capsule Reviews
Why Do Fools Fall in Love
Why Do Fools Fall in Love

Other Films by Gregory Nava
My Family

Film Vault Suggested Links
Quiz Show
The Stratton Story
Mansfield Park

Related Merchandise
Search for related videos at Reel.com
Search for more by Gregory Nava at Reel.com
Search for related books at Amazon.com
Search for related music at Amazon.com

Rate this Film
If you don't want to vote on a film yet, and would like to know how others voted, leave the rating selection as "Vote Here" and then click the Cast Vote button.