It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Jerry Lee Lewis has by all accounts led a dark and driven life, shadowed by drugs, booze, violence, scandal and the tragic ends of two of his several wives and one of his children. An accurate biopic about his life would belong on the same bill with "I'll Cry Tomorrow" or "The Rose." But that picture wouldn't be much fun - as indeed great long stretches of the life itself must not have been much fun - and so "Great Balls of Fire" gives us a Jerry Lee Lewis who has been sanitized, popularized and lobotomized. Even then, the story ends in 1959 - before most of the events for which "The Killer" became notorious.
This is a simpleminded rock 'n' roll history in which the pleasures are many and the troubles are few. Lewis, played by Dennis Quaid as a grinning simpleton with a crazy streak and a manic piano style, climbs the same career ladder as many of the stars of musical biographies, but he does it with lightning speed.
As a kid, he eavesdrops on black rhythm and blues. Then we flash-forward to Lewis pounding on the piano in the same style. Cut to a demo record that attracts the attention of Sam Phillips, the legendary head of Sun Records in Memphis. Cut to the record hitting the Top 40 charts. Cut to Lewis listening to a black band play "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." Cut to his cover version of the record being cheered by a rowdy bar crowd. Cut to stardom. In between, there are some meetings with Lewis' evangelist cousin, Jimmy Swaggart (Alec Baldwin), who warns him he must choose between heaven and hell. "Well, if I'm goin' to hell," Lewis says, "I'm gonna go playing the piano."
There must have been more to it than that, but not in this movie. In fact, that flash-forward between the kid and the Killer jumps over a lot of ground, including Lewis' first two marriages. We rejoin his life just as he has moved in with his cousin, J.W. Brown, who joins his band as the bass player. And it's in Brown's house that Lewis meets young Myra Gale Brown (Winona Ryder), who became his bride at the age of 13 (it is said she still believed in Santa Claus on her wedding night).