Tag Archives: Frankie and Johnny

From Stage to Screen: Frankie and Johnny meets Prelude to a Kiss

Frankie and Johnny and Prelude to a Kiss have similar histories, as play-to-movie-adaptations musing on the joy and pain of love and relationships. Both featured stellar casts and garnered decent reviews when they were released in the early 90s. Sadly, away from the marketing hype, both sank at the box office.Based on the play by Craig Lucas Prelude to a Kiss starts out predictably enough as a whirlwind romance. Peter (Alec Baldwin) and Rita (Meg Ryan) meet at a party, flirt and dance together, and, within weeks, agree to marry. On the day of the wedding a kindly old stranger (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.An adaptation of the Terence McNally play, Frankie and Johnny follows the troubled path to romance of two workers in a New York diner. Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a waitress whose rough encounters with men have left her wary of love. Johnny (Al Pacino) is the new cook who instantly falls for Frankie. He’s a likeable sort who’s just been released from prison and is trying to rebuild his life.Put simply, this is a film featuring two people who we hope will end up together, our role is to sit back and watch the prelude to the inevitable. So why should you give Gary Marshall’s working-class romance the time of day? Well, two obvious reasons are emblazoned above the film’s title: Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.This is Pacino playing Pacino, but in a way you rarely see. He’s still got all the answers, but you can also see how needy he is. As Frankie, Michelle Pfeiffer’s brokenness is palpable. She doesn’t even have to say a word, you can see the conflict and fear in her eyes and her body language. She’s fighting Johnny, she’s fighting herself, she’s fighting everything; it makes for powerful viewing.More than just a showcase for the superstar charisma of Al and Michelle, Frankie and Johnny contains one of the most deliciously romantic moments ever committed to film; when the door on a truck opens behind the eponymous couple to reveal a sunburst of flowers at the moment they kiss for the first time.Generating romantic wattage comparable to the Pfeiffer/Pacino combo, Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan are soon locked in a twin-star orbit of their own. Baldwin, who I’d never have considered in the same league as Pacino, actually carries the weight of the story well, As for the endearingly off the wall Ryan, she manages to elevate facial expression to an art form.Effectively playing a dual role; even before the soul swap Meg develops a character who is sexy and charming but also unpredictable and dark-spirited. But when she kisses Sydney Walker, she changes before your eyes. The obligatory screen kiss becomes a defining character moment.In a way, Prelude follows the pattern of Frankie and Johnny, where the characters are kept apart by plot complications, before getting together for the happy ending. The difference here is the originality of those plot complications.
Prelude to a Kiss is a beautiful, subtle film, and like Frankie and Johnny it harks back to a time when movies could speak about love and souls without fear or embarrassment. Such films are rare, but it’s wonderful when you find them.

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