Frankie and Johnny

On this, the opening day of Meg and Michelle’s March Blogathon I’m delighted to welcome RB, author of RB Movie Reviews. RB is one of the most loyal, pleasant and articulate of my followers and it’s a pleasure to share her review of another play to movie adaptation from the early 90s; Frankie and Johnny.Al and MichelleFrankie and Johnny is not a mood piece, but it does have a beautifully consistent mood and tone that is set right as the movie opens. Director Marshall is at his finest with the opening wide shot of a bus on a highway, flanked by brilliant green Pennsylvania forests. Michelle Pfeiffer as Frankie is aboard the bus for a day trip out of New York for a family event (notably, a baptism, symbolizing beginnings). The voice of the bus drivers informs passengers they are close to a correctional facility, as Frankie stares out of the window lost in her own thoughts, and not knowing that her future paramour is being released from that prison at the same time.  Frankie’s somewhat moody gaze lets the viewer in to her independent and lonely nature. Later, as she leaves her family to catch the late bus back to the city, saying goodbye to her concerned mother, played by Anne Meara, Pfeiffer has already drawn the viewer so convincingly into her character that you can almost feel the weight of her sweater sleeve on her arm, as she says goodbye, telling her mother that, “If I’m not the happiest person in the world… it’s not your fault.”  This line is important because of the immediate insight that is given into the complex personality of Frankie.Johnny (Al Pacino)The camera cuts to a jovial Al Pacino as Johnny, saying goodbye to the prison guards and setting forth to his own new beginnings in New York.Pfeiffer and Kate NelliganThe plot is simple and familiar; Johnny finds a job as a cook in the Greek diner where Frankie works as a waitress. Hector ElizondoBased on a successful Broadway play, the movie combines delicious cinematography touches, with an abundance of enjoyable dialogue, with much of that contributed by the supporting players, such as Kate Nelligan (above) and Hector Elizondo.Nathan LaneThe ensemble is expertly complemented with Nathan Lane as Tim, Frankie’s neighbour, confidante and enduring friend.Al and MichelleDespite some of the criticism levelled at the leads for being too impossibly gorgeous to recreate the characters from the Broadway play, Pfeiffer and Pacino actually give believable and unselfconscious performances that earn Frankie and Johnny a spot in the permanent collection of any fan of either. They are both quite breathtaking throughout the film and are acting “in the moment” of every moment. The relationship between the two develops slowly, with real-world complications and road blocks.  Both Pfeiffer and Pacino are playing characters that are world weary, earthy and with a degree of intensity. In Pacino’s case almost all of his feelings are worn on his sleeve, for Pfeiffer, hidden by a cool reserve that no stranger is able to disarm. Pacino and PfeifferWhat Johnny (and the audience) pick up on, is that tough-but-fragile Frankie, underneath a somewhat scruffy exterior, has a heart as big as all outdoors.  There’s no one she interacts with where she doesn’t seem to have the other person’s best interests at heart, and the quality comes off as a matter of instinct rather than calculation. Done well, in movies and life, this wins hearts. Pfeiffer is about the only actress I can think of who can convey the nuances of this character as skillfully as she did, with both her stage sense and her physical acting. Pacino’s role, less subtle, is full court endearing as he represents the kind of earthy and masculine realness that many women spend their lives dreaming about, wondering if it exists in the real world. Marshall ties it all together with an ending that manages to be both pedestrian and triumphant. Such are the ingredients of a movie that invites you in to a world where the filmmakers have captured what it is you find valuable in life… in their art.Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer)Michelle Pfeiffer’s Frankie is one of my favorite characters ever to grace the stage or screen.

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4 Comments

Filed under Blogathon, Guest Post

4 responses to “Frankie and Johnny

  1. This is a beautiful review of a beautiful film.Frankie and Johnny is marvellous, and has been wrongly maligned over the years. Thanks for balancing the scales.
    For me Michelle’s amazingly deft work in this film makes it one of my favourite Pfeiffer performances of all. She is simply brilliant, despite what anyone wants to say about the film itself. For all the talk of her being too beautiful for the role, her Frankie is utterly defensive but also extremely likeable, and she makes the whole movie feel real. Her impatience during the “open your robe” moment is classic Pfeiffer.

    • J.D.

      I like this film a lot, too. It’s a slice-of-life character piece that you don’t see too much anymore or if you do it’s an indie film. I thought the chemistry between Pfeiffer and Pacino was well-done and they play well off each other.

      • Frankie and Johnny captivated me, and the chemistry between Al and Michelle, was palpable. I know it’s difficult when there is so little to choose between them, but I wondered where you stood on Al and Michelle in this film vs Baldwin and Ryan in Prelude to a Kiss?

        • J.D.

          Tough call. Both couples have their merits in their respective films but if I had to choose I’d go with Baldwin and Ryan if only because I love the way they interact with each other early on and then how this is flipped on its head when the soul-swap takes place.

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