Plot: Jerry Lee Lewis (Dennis Quaid) has been through two marriages and some rough times, but he remains optimistic about his future and is more determined than ever to make it as a musician. His latest recording manages to catch the attention of Sun Records and soon enough, Lewis is all over the radio and he can almost taste the fame, as the locals swarm him with attention. As time passes, he is told the music he wants to perform and his on stage methods are too risque, but he refuses to relent and his bold style catches fire and sells a lot of albums. He also begins to spark a new love interest, who happens to not only be the daughter of his bass player, but also his cousin, twice removed. Lewis rides his wild charisma and talent to the top, to the point he is heralded as the new King of Rock n Roll. But will his reckless, controversial personal life derail the legacy of the music?
Entertainment Value: Although Great Balls of Fire is a biopic on Jerry Lee Lewis, this movie takes a manic, entertainment focused approach, rather than a gritty, in the trenches exploration of his chaotic life. The movie picks up on the cusp of Lewis’ fame and concludes just after his fall from grace, so a lot of important stretches of his life have been left out here. Once you accept that the movie was never intended to be a serious, in depth biopic however, Great Balls of Fire can be viewed for what it is, a wild and manic trek through a tumultuous section of Lewis’ life. The tone is brash and over the top, almost like a soap opera or tabloid tv spin on the real life events, presenting Lewis as a naive and reckless force of nature. This is bolstered by an outlandish performance from Dennis Quaid, who goes for broke as the colorful musician. To call his work here over the top would be an understatement, as he channels an outrageous, soap opera inspired effort that has to be seen to be believed. Winona Ryder is excellent as his confused, in way over her head teenage bride, while John Doe, Alec Baldwin, Trey Wilson, Lisa Blount, and Stephen Tobolowsky round out the central cast. Great Balls of Fire isn’t one for those who seek a serious, in depth biopic, but for those who appreciate offbeat, over the top cinema, it is well recommended.
No nakedness. But one of the movie’s main threads is the relationship between Lewis and his thirteen year old cousin, who he engages in a sexual bond with and eventually marries. The movie presents the situation as awkward and confused, never romantic in the least, but it is still a controversial element. The sexual content is minimal and no naked flesh is shown whatsoever. No blood. Lewis is unpredictable, but the main violence in the movie is when he abuses pianos, though he does have a conflict with Myra that turns violent. Myra’s dad also pursues Lewis with a handgun at one point, but no bloodshed or outright violence is involved. The dialogue is wild, dysfunctional, and beyond over the top and the performances support that approach, so it leads to some hilarious, bizarre moments. Quaid really goes off the deep end as Lewis, so he has the bulk of the craziness, but there’s plenty to go around here. As for craziness, this one is unhinged from start to finish, making no effort to stay grounded and just letting the legend of Lewis run wild. Quaid’s performance alone earns some serious points, but the manic tone and and offbeat, soap opera style humor ensures this is one that fans of off the wall cinema should appreciate.
Overall Insanity: 8/10