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   GREAT BALLS OF FIRE (1989) 

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CAST
Dennis Quaid
Winona Ryder
John Doe
Trey Wilson
Stephen Tobolowsky
Alec Baldwin
Lisa Blount
Mojo Nixon
Jimmie Vaughan
David Ferguson
Robert Lesser

DIRECTED BY
Jim McBride

PURCHASE


DVD



Soundtrack




Time: 108 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Music/Biography


SYNOPSIS: Jerry Lee Lewis makes himself into one of the 50s biggest rock-and-roll stars only to lose his chance at worldwide stardom when he marries his 13-year-old cousin. His refusal to apologize for his actions and growing egomania derail his promising career and damage his realtionship with his child bride.

BOTTOM LINE: I can understand what drew Quaid to this project. Actors don't get to play characters as outrageous and colorful very often and there's no doubt that Jerry Lee Lewis was hell on wheels. Quaid certainly goes all out to capture the essence of this rock-and-roll icon, yet I found his performance to be so over-the-top through most of the film as to be almost laughable. Granted, I'm sure it's a spot on portrayal – Lewis is not known for being humble or cerebral – but the constant drama and bravado kept him from ever seeming like a real human being. Plus, the fact that Quaid was over a decade too old (he was 35, Lewis is supposed to be around 23), made his relationship with Myra/Ryder feel even more inappropriate, if that's possible. Blowing bubbles, throwing tantrums and driving fast is not enough to make you believe he's a young man. Too many lines for that. What saves his performance, besides the chemistry he has with Ryder, is the energy and conviction he brings to the musical numbers. Even though it's obvious he's not singing or playing, he's entrancing on the stage.

For her part, Ryder portrays the 13-year-old Myra perfectly – as the scared, clueless, star-struck, willful child she most assuredly was. Having been a naive teenage girl myself, I know that I would have had no chance of resisting the overwhelming charms of someone like Jerry Lee Lewis. Of course, MY parents wouldn't have let me anywhere near him, nevermind allow him to live in the same household. Yes, they were related and her dad was in the band, but come on people, a blind deaf mute could have see where this "friendship" was heading. The minute you think you should send your daughter away to boarding school, you should make it a reality not a threat. Myra was a girl desperate for attention and to be treated like a grown up and man does the real world hit her hard. Being the wife of a musician is difficult for grown women and is no place for girls. My heart would have broken for her, if she wasn't so blindly devoted and annoyingly vapid...which is exactly how her character should be.

The plot attempts some depth by giving Jerry a nemesis in the guise of his holier-than-thou cousin Jimmy Swaggert, played by Baldwin. The only problem with this "battle for Jerry's soul" is that we know the devil a.k.a. fame and rock-n-roll won his soul long ago. In fact, God never stood a chance. It's plot-filling designed as character development, which is desperately needed, but this "struggle" is a farce. Perhaps if it was a larger part of the story it would have been remotely believavle. Five scenes does not a battle make, no matter how charismatic Baldwin is. As long as the film focuses on Lewis's music and career it has spark and energy – delivering one hell of a soundtrack – but the rest of his life and the film are a bit of a mess.




"Well, if I'm going to hell, I'm going there playing the piano."

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