Great Balls of Fire!
Biography / Drama / Music
Great Balls of Fire!
Biography / Drama / Music
The story of Jerry Lee Lewis, arguably the greatest and certainly one of the wildest musicians of the 1950s. His arrogance, remarkable talent, and unconventional lifestyle often brought him into conflict with others in the industry, and even earned him the scorn and condemnation of the public.
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August 08, 2018 at 05:43 AM
Immensely Entertaining & The Music Is Great
An excellent job by director Jim McBride of putting Myra Lewis's book about the life of legendary rock and roll star Jerry Lee Lewis (her husband) on film.
Dennis Quaid gives an over the top performance (sometimes a bit too over the top; but, then again, this is Jerry Lee Lewis) as Lewis, arrogant and child-like, trying to deal with sudden fame, having to deal with the consequences of having married his thirteen year old cousin (Myra, who authored the book). Quaid was truly excellent in this role. Yes, the lip-synching was perhaps a bit too obvious at times, but for the sake of hearing some great music performed by the real Jerry Lee Lewis, that was an irritant I could easily put up with. The relationship between Lewis and Myra (Winona Ryder) is developed sensitively and tastefully by McBride. Humour is added by exploring the complex love-hate relationship between Lewis and his cousin, the evangelist Jimmy Swaggart (Alec Baldwin). There is also great irony, given what ultimately happened to Swaggart, as we listen to him lecturing Lewis about the dangers of taking the "gold-paved streets of rock and roll."
I really enjoyed this movie. Perhaps it was guilty of portraying everyone in it as a bit of a caricature, but it still seemed to offer an entirely believable story of Lewis's life. Well worth the watching.
Wonderful soundtrack - very disappointing film
Despite all the great music, I was very disappointed with this film for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a very rough interpretation of real events, and in places extremely so. Certain key characters are portrayed incorrectly - notably Jack Clement and Sam Phillips - but most importantly it is the persona of Jerry Lee himself that is of concern. I certainly don't blame Dennis Quaid for this; his performance is suitably crazed and his on-stage antics are at times reminiscent of The Killer in his prime. But Quaid was clearly instructed to play the role more as a comic turn than as the troubled and conflicted man that Lewis was at the time. In fact, the whole film is positioned as some sort of over-the-top comedy, and some of the lowest points of Lewis's life are treated with, at best, a kind of dark slapstick.
There are also some more minor details which I personally disagreed with. In some ways, getting Lewis himself to re-record many of his classic hits was a good idea and added more immediacy to the 'live' performances than the old and familiar recordings would have done. However, in parts of the film where actual records of his songs were playing, I believe the originals should have been used to add authenticity. This raises the wider point of the fact that Dennis Quaid lip-syncs at all. Ever since Gary Busey, Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith performed every song completely live in The Buddy Holly Story, anything less has been (rightly or wrongly) seen as some sort of cop-out in rock biopics. Lip-syncing has been used with minor success in films such as Ray, but there is an argument that says you should allow whichever actor you have entrusted to play a rock legend the opportunity to undertake the most important aspect of the character - the musical performance.
Another issue with the film is one of its main themes - the relationship between Jerry Lee and Myra, which is handled rather clunkily. The resolution between Lewis and Myra's father is sudden and unexplained, and the relationship somehow goes from being completely taboo to accepted and even normal in a very short time.
I'm not surprised that this film was disliked by the Killer himself. It makes light of extremely serious chapters in his life and misrepresents certain people who were dear to him. In my view, it is never a good idea to take a real story and tailor it for your own preference in the hope of entertaining people. Usually, the real story - and in this case, the real man - is much more interesting.
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The Good & Bad Of 'Great Balls Of Fire'
Being a fan of Jerry Lee Lewis since he began rockin' way back in the 1950s, this movie is a bit of a disappointment overall. The "bad" outweighs the "good" in here, story-wise.
GOOD - The music - naturally! There is some great music in here, featuring Dennis Quaid as the entertaining rockabilly-rock-country singer who surely will go down as the one of the great entertainers of his generation. Quaid lip-syncs the songs, but that okay. They sound better with Lewis doing the singing. The movie is colorful, entertaining and fast-moving. Wynona Ryder looks really cute, too.
BAD - There is a little bit too much emphasis on Lewis' brother, Jimmy Swaggart (Alec Baldwin) and, of course, they make him look like some fanatical religious preacher. Hey, I'm not a "charismatic" follower but there was an obvious bias in here and it wasn't necessary. Also, the writers actually made Lewis look a sympathetic victim for the criticism he got marrying his 13-year-old cousin! Only in the film-making world do we see poor morals given the thumbs-up. Sorry, Jerry Lee, but marrying your 13-year-old cousin warrants a bit of criticism! I later discovered this movie was based on a book by that the same "girl," so it's no wonder it makes that relationship look "legitimate."
The ending was not appropriate, either. Most of the characters in this film were exaggerated to the degree that they all look cartoonish. This movie could have been so much better with a more objective look at Jerry Lee's life and people in it.