Dual Review: Frankie and Johnny and Prelude to a Kiss

In the latest in a series of dual reviews—guest writer Michael C. and host Paul S. look at Frankie and Johnny and Prelude to a Kiss.

Paul S: To me, and everyone else haunted by the picture. Prelude to a Kiss (1992) casts a powerful spell, and yet audiences weren’t interested in this intelligent, penetrating drama that asked provocative questions. For those of us who’ve become captivated by its bewitching atmosphere, it’s one of the 90s most underrated films, with an ending that resonates long after the credits roll.Michael C: And then there was the time my two favorites starred in one of the most starkly honest and mature films about grownup relationships this viewer has ever seen. Frankie and Johnny (1991) is a beautifully melancholic tale, laced through with rich and sincere humor aimed at adults—people who’ve lived long enough to have loved and lost and felt real longing and despair.Paul S: Prelude to a Kiss starts off as a whirlwind romance between Peter (Alec Baldwin) and Rita (Meg Ryan) who meet at a party, flirt and dance together, and, within weeks, agree to marry. There’s a wonderful chemistry in the party scene as Baldwin and Ryan have an awkward meet-cute moment that feels genuine. Their conversations early on in the film are so intoxicating, you really don’t want these getting-to-know-you scenes to end. On the day of the wedding an old man named Julius (Sydney Walker) wanders into the ceremony and asks to kiss the bride. She agrees, and as their lips meet clouds gather and a ill wind blows. In an instant, their souls have swapped bodies. How this happened is never explained, It’s accepted as a mystical happening. A fairy tale act of fate and will.Michael C: Al Pacino is fantastic as Johnny, the new short-order cook at the diner where Michelle Pfeiffer’s Frankie works. Johnny is a good man who truly believes that he and Frankie are meant to be together. Johnny is fully alive now to the realization that life is short, so he’s resolved to cherish every minute of it moving forward. Frankie is the cynic, the beaten-down diner waitress who masks the pain of previous relationship failures with biting sarcasm and avoidance. She’s the emotional core of the film. Pfeiffer makes us believe just how badly Frankie has been hurt before, how frightened and damaged beyond repair she feels. Her performance is simply heartbreaking, so nakedly raw and thoroughly believable. At the time she was cast, there were grumblings about her being “too pretty” to be convincing as the world-weary Frankie. With this ferocious, committed performance, she put those doubts to rest.Paul S: Meg spends the first half of her film getting Peter (and the audience) to fall in love with Rita, thanks to her great smile, amazing hair and a Bohemian streak that makes her a distinctive character, rather than a routine romantic lead. Ryan is especially good when her body is possessed by the soul of old man Julius, as she subtly changes how she talks, moves and acts.Michael C: Late in the movie, Pfeiffer sobs, almost uncontrollably, through a devastating monologue that guts me every time—”I’m afraid to be alone, I’m afraid not to be alone, I’m afraid of what I am, what I’m not, what I might become, what I might never become.” It’s truly a tour-de-force moment, the kind that will forever be included in highlight reels celebrating her work.Paul S: I guess that’s why people become actors. If you’re good, you reach the heart. Michelle is one of those rare actors who I’d watch in anything. Getting back to Prelude to a Kiss, Meg Ryan shines in one of her finest performances; mixing the adorable comedic style she made her own, with some subtle, moving moments. Echoing Frankie and Johnny, Prelude to a Kiss is sad yet hopeful, complex, yet simple, funny, yet melancholy. It still affects me and gives me chills.Michael C: Frankie and Johnny is an all-time sentimental favorite of mine, one that will always hold a special place in my heart. Sometimes you connect with a film, or with a character, in such a deep and meaningful way that they become an integral part of you. That’s my experience with both this film and the two lead performances, but especially with Pfeiffer’s work as Frankie. She’s a revelation here. Some days, I even believe it’s her very best work.

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