Tag Archives: Frankie and Johnny

Guest Post: Happy Birthday Michelle!

It’s the second day of Pfeiffer Pfilm Pfest and things only get better, as I’m joined by the fabulous RB in a celebration of two favourite performances from the one and only. Another season, another reason…

Susie Makin WhoopeeMichelle Pfeiffer has created two of my most favorite screen characters of all time. Susie Diamond, the iconic lounge singer in The Fabulous Baker Boys, and Frankie the waitress in Frankie and Johnny, a criminally underrated Garry Marshall vehicle that belongs in the permanent collection of any Pfeiffer Pfan.   The two characters could not be more different yet Michelle’s interpretation and portrayals of both Susie and Frankie, ensures each one remains forever a classic figure in the film world.Sensational Susie DiamondAs represented by her last name, Susie is diamond-hard, lithe, cynical, and also, an undeniably talented singer.  From the moment she shows up to audition for the Baker Boys. a once successful, now floundering piano lounge act, Suzy acts as a catalyst of events.  She is hired and almost immediately has a profound effect on not only the success of the Baker Boys’ act, but also impacts the brothers’ relationship and sets in motion of chain of events that leads both Frank and Jeff Baker to re-examine their lives and priorities.Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer)Without a lot of backstory to explain Susie’s complex character, the viewer is easily captivated by the strength of her physical presence, how she appears to influence the unfolding of events around her, essentially unaffected for the most part. Because the basic character is about as far from original as you can get (former call girl trying for a better life), the movie rests exquisitely on the skilled direction of Steve Kloves, and iconic performances from Michelle and her co-stars, the brothers Bridges.Makin WhoopeeIn the famous scene where Susie, clad in the clinging red sheath, sits atop the piano and slowly uncoils herself across its surface, while seductively crooning “Makin Whoopee” audiences and critics alike were smitten.  Men fell in love, and I resolved to lose 10 pounds, dye my hair blonde, buy a red sheath and take up singing lessons.Frankie and JohnnyFrankie the waitress is in many ways the opposite of glamorous Susie. Frankie is a more pedestrian character, solidly working class and somewhat emotionally unavailable. Yet, Frankie is neither cold nor distant, with a keen sense of perception, humor and general compassion for those around her. Unlike the Susie character, able to disregard others with the abandon of a bird flinging water from her feathers, Frankie’s universe is defined by her work ethic and values. Even as she hides her pain and loneliness from the outside world, in every interaction she conducts herself with an innate respect for other people’s interests. This innate respect extends to Pacino’s Johnny, the man pursuing her, even as she spurns his advances. Once again, the viewer is captivated by the character – for totally different reasons.Pfeiffer as FrankieWhat is common to both characters, of course, is the ability of Michelle as an actress to make you care what happens to Susie, what happens to Frankie.  This ability to make the viewer identify so strongly with the character is what makes Michelle more than simply a beautiful actress. After all, if it were just that, the caring wouldn’t necessarily follow.Clair de LuneFrankie is ultimately a happy-ever-after film, with an ending scene that again, ranks as one of my all time favorites.  Frankie and Johnny are hanging out in the her apartment, with the morning sun lighting up the room, not exchanging words at all, but brushing their teeth.  There’s almost no way to describe this in words and have it sound appealing- on screen it works beautifully and hammers home, again without words, a conversation between two people that speaks of a future and a shared life.  After multiple viewings of that scene, Garry Marshall impresses the heck out of me each time.Peas Peas Try Our PeasSusie, on the other hand, in the final scene with Jack Baker, where the audience is deeply invested in the relationship between the two, makes it clear that these are two tough, more gritty characters, that the viewer senses, will both be OK, on some level, either with or without each other. If I had to pick a top favorite rainy weekend double feature, I’d go with The Fabulous Baker Boys followed by Frankie and Johnny.Michelles Birthday

 

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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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