Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Frankie Lymon was 13 when he had his big hit record, and 25 when he died. The record fell like a gift from the sky, hit the top of the charts, and can still be heard on the golden oldies stations. The rest of his life played like the flip side. “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” tells the story of how he married three women (at least according to them), got into trouble with drugs and the Army, and self-destructed prematurely, leaving his ex-wives and/or widows squabbling in court over the estate.
There are several angles this material might have been approached from, and director Gregory Nava tries several without hitting on one that works. By the end of the film we're not even left with anyone to root for; we realize with a little astonishment, waiting for the court verdict, that we don't care who wins.
The movie is not really about Frankie Lymon (Larenz Tate), who remains an enigma. Nor does it have many insights into the three claimants to his estate: Zola Taylor (Halle Berry), a singer with the Platters, who was his first girl and his second wife; Elizabeth Waters (Vivica A. Fox), a shoplifter who loved him so much she became a hooker to pay for his drug rehab, and Emira Eagle (Lela Rochon), a church-going waitress who was there when he needed her, after he was drafted into the Army and sent to Georgia for training.
What made Frankie run? The movie clearly doesn't know. It sets the story against a convincing backdrop of the 1950s rock 'n' roll industry, provides some high-energy musical sequences, and finds moments of drama as Frankie is beaten by drug money collectors, steals a mink stole from one woman to give to another and threatens to throw dogs out the window--all while somehow remaining a lovable madcap. Well, most of the time.