Great Balls of Fire! is a 1989 biopic of Jerry Lee Lewis starring Dennis Quaid, Winona Ryder, John Doe, Stephen Tobolowsky and Alec Baldwin, based on the biography of the same name by Lewis' former wife Myra Gale Brown.
It entails Lewis' life circa the mid to late 1950s when his career started to take off only to be derailed by the scandal of his marriage to Brown, his 13-year-old cousin. Notably, contrary to the typically sympathetic and sugarcoating tone of most musician biopics, the film is overtly condemning towards Lewis, depicting him as an abusive husband and arrogant public figure who descends into alcoholism as a result of his inability to take responsibility for his actions. Such a depiction was based on accounts from Brown in her 1970 divorce testimony as well as from the biography that the film is based on. The real Lewis would admonish the film for what he perceived as a lopsided portrayal of his life.
While Roger Ebert wasn't a fan of the film, considering it clumsy in its handling of Lewis' life story (particularly his rise to prominence), the film has received overall good marks from critics.
Goodness, gracious, great tropes of fire!:
- A Minor Kidroduction: In the movie's prologue 5-year-old Jerry Lee and his 8-year-old cousin Jimmy Swaggart sneak off to a jazz club.
- Big "SHUT UP!": J.W. delivers one to the secretary and the studio when she screams at him brandishing a handgun.
- Bookends: Earlier in the film, Jerry was greeted by fans and other well-wishers while riding in his car. Towards the end after his marriage to Myra comes to light, these same people either shake their fists or wag their fingers in shame at him, while Jerry is shown again riding in his car.
- Bowdlerize: In the film versus in real life; after opening for Chuck Berry and having a wildly positive audience reaction, in the latter, Jerry told him, "Top that, nigger." But in the former, he says, "Top that, killer!"
- Daddy's Girl: Myra is close to her father and takes his rejection of her marriage and his initial disappointment in her especially hard.
- Dumb Struck: Myra during her wedding to Jerry. She was so overwhelmed that she almost couldn't say "I do."
- Fingore: During the Sad-Times Montage, at one point Jerry pounds the piano keys so hard that his fingers start bleeding.
- Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: A subversion: the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart, Lewis' real-life cousin, believes that he is the latter to his younger, wilder cousin's former due to his love or rock and roll and preaches this from his pulpit.
- Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Being a thirteen-year-old girl, Myra almost always has one with her while at home.
- Happily Married: J.W. and Lois. Even Jerry remarks this while on tour what a good wife she is to him.
- How the Mighty Have Fallen: The overall tone of the film after Jerry's marriage to Myra is publicly discovered.
- Kissing Cousins: Obviously.
- Loony Fan: Jerry encounters one on the road; the girl sneaks into his hotel room while he was sleeping and cuts a lock of his hair off.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: Implied when Jerry and Myra consummate their marriage:"You don't move like no virgin!"
- Nothing but Hits: A given since the film showcases all of Jerry Lee Lewis' songs.
- Pædo Hunt: How the people in England, and eventually everyone else, come to view Jerry after learning about Myra, calling him a "cradle-robber" among other things.
- Paparazzi: Jerry, Myra, and the band have to deal with this on their trip to England. They end up so beleaguered by their presence, that one even hangs from a window just to get a shot of him and Myra of them in their second-story hotel room.
- Papa Wolf: J. W. Brown is this to his daughter, even freaking out upon learning of Myra's marriage to Jerry and stampeding the studio with a gun.
- The Rival: Elvis Presley is this to Jerry. He was about to be dethroned as the king of rock and roll when he enlisted in the Army, but it didn't exactly go to plan.
- Running Gag: The double doors at the recording studio.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: In the aftermath of the fallout from the scandal, J.W. quits the band and gets another job.
- Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: In addition to the negative reactions of the public to Jerry and Myra's marriage, earlier when they went on a shopping spree for furniture, he soon found her sitting in the kitchen crying and exclaiming "I don't know how to be a wife; I'm only 13!"
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: As he began to become a hit and after he received his first advance from the studio, Jerry manages to lure J.W. back to the band after his marriage to Myra is discovered. Although the two men shake hands and agree to be civil to one another, it's obvious that things will never be the same between them.