Great Balls of Fire | Chicago Reader

Great Balls of Fire

After The Big Easy, Dennis Quaid and director Jim McBride reunited for this 1989 musical biopic about rock icon Jerry Lee Lewis. More fanciful than factual, less likable than either The Big Easy or Breathless, McBride's previous two features, the movie tries hard to re-create the euphoria of 50s rock films, but the poor-white milieu is treated with such crude derision that all the characters wind up seeming like two-dimensional geeks. Winona Ryder turns in a particularly fresh performance as Lewis's teenage bride, Myra, but the filmmakers' remoteness from their real-life models (including Lewis's cousin Jimmy Swaggart, played by Alec Baldwin) eventually lands the movie in confusion—by the end, we don't even know for sure whether the Killer is triumphing or going down in flames. Still, there are a few striking touches and entertaining broad strokes, and the musical sequences are lively. Scripted by McBride and Jack Baran and very loosely based on the biography Myra Lewis wrote with Murray Silver; with John Doe, Lisa Blount, Stephen Tobolowsky, Trey Wilson, and cameos by Steve Allen and Joe Bob Briggs.

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