Lookin For Love

The three women in Why Do Fools Fall in Love are just as self-sufficient as Vivian, whether in or out of love--but only when they're together. Likewise, this bio-pic of pop-rock pioneer Frankie Lymon (Larenz Tate) only works when at least two of the singer's three wives (Halle Berry, Vivica A. Fox, Lela Rochon) are in the picture, which isn't often enough. Before becoming a trigamist and a junkie, Lymon wrote and performed the titular tune in 1956, then caused a minor scandal by dancing with a white girl on network TV. By the early '60s he was already a one-hit wonder; by the late '60s he was dead of an overdose; and by the mid-'80s (just after Diana Ross's hit cover version) the three Mrs. Lymons were feuding over whatever was left of his royalties. In the film, each widow tells her story on the witness stand, and, although a few Rashomon-style inconsistencies pop up, the running theme is that Lymon acted charming just long enough to wed the women and use their money to buy dope.

Before the verdict is delivered, the three have become wisecracking sisters, but for each overlong courtship flashback we're stuck in Wonderland's realm of Smart Women, Foolish Choices. The film is heavy on plot and production design but light on nuance and explanation. Tate has Lymon's post-doo-wop stage-moves down cold (if not the lip-synched falsetto), but director Gregory Nava (Selena) makes the man a psychological cipher, failing to explicate his lyrics in relation to the "fools" he seduced. Is this guy just an unrepentant hustler? Why does he go from sharing his wealth with hungry bums to hanging his second wife's dog out the window?

In the courtroom, Little Richard (playing his smooth self) testifies that the white man ripped off the African-American's rock 'n' roll architecture. True enough--and one also has the sense that Lymon, in the film as in life, is guilty of stealing valuable stage time from three women who would have made one helluva girl group.

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