Frankie and Johnny (1991)
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Set in New York, the movie deals with loneliness, different ways of coping or letting go, it deals with love, the yearning for it and also the fear of it, this magical feeling you almost don't dare hope for. The simple but genuine approach to these important themes makes the story stand out and makes you want to believe, because deep inside you already do.
You can tell the movie is based on a play, primarily because of the special atmosphere created by the careful progression of the story, scene by scene, not to mention the wonderful and individual characters we get acquainted with. Both Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino make outstanding performances and the on screen chemistry between the two is perfect.
This is an absolute must see for all you dreamers out there, and if you ever come across the play, you probably should check that out as well. Remember, the elephant must face the window and a VCR will never be a substitute for love. Sit down with this movie, and I promise you, from the first shot of the Greyhound accompanied by Terence Trent D'Arby's wonderful title track, you'll never want it to end.
Pacino plays a man just released from prison, who lost his wife and child to another man, trying to remake his life; this was based on a play by the same name, "Frankie and Johnny in the Claire De Lune" and basically addresses loneliness and isolation, even in a city as overcrowded as NY.
I wish Pfeiffer had done more of these roles. She was so often used as a decoration, her acting ability was not allowed to standout ("Scarface", "Witches of Eastwick") etc. She was also very good in "White Oleander" an excellent film based on the novel by Janet Fitch.
Overall this film is particularly good if you are having problems in your life, and happen to watch this basic story of people, how they stay isolated, how they eventually find each other and a commonality in their life. It is also not an over the top romantic comedy, so it has credibility. 10/10.
There are some lovely moments,. I liked the scene in the flower market, where the two are standing together and the metal door slides up to display a dazzling backdrop of red and orange flowers. Also, the final scene with the toothbrushes and Claire de Lune is nicely done. Pfeiffer is particularly good here and Pacino backs her up all the way. Still there are so many hackneyed clichés. Perhaps its just that we have seen so many films, good ones in which people are more realistically portrayed that it's annoying to see so many old-timey stock types: the good hearted gay buddy, the good hearted but slutty waitress buddy, the good hearted Greek restaurant owner, the good hearted homely waitress buddy, the good-hearted Puerto-Rican busboy and the good-hearted black busboy. Then there are the good hearted clients. If they had gone for realistic characterizations of some of these people rather than going for heart-warming "types" this could have been a much better film. I blame Garry Marshall for this. Pacino and Pfeiffer did their best to bring some class to this film.
Overall rating: 8 out of 10.
Michelle plays a depressed soul, beaten down who has given up completely. And Pacino is a beaten down battered ex-con, who somehow, has held onto "the dream". Nathan Lane is great - It's romantic, poignant, funny, sad, ecstatic. I love the last scene so much. What more can I say?? Don't miss this film - it's a treat.
Nancy Mehegan, Montclair, NJ
Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer) has had bad experiences with love in the past and it causes her to retreat when Johnny, (Al Pacino) an ex con newly hired in the restaurant where she works, asks her out. With the help of her friends, she agrees to go on a date with him. But the more their romance blossoms, the more Frankie becomes scared of being hurt again.
There are important things to learn from this movie. If you found someone really special, don't let the mistakes of the past ruin it for you. The film itself has a lot of references to songs which makes it even more romantic. Romantic dramas often end in tears, but this one doesn't. It's truthful and simple. 10 out of 10.
One such audience was in the early 90's when this film was in theater where exiting Lake Geneva, Wisconsin viewers were shaking their heads and mumbling about the movie being weird, dry, and boring. Whether influenced by values and relationships that went against their personal beliefs or a failure to comprehend the deeper meanings, this audience overwhelmingly found the film distasteful.
Gary Marshal provides a wonderful layering of coincidences that one imagines wasn't in the original stage-play. The opening of the movie has Frankie off to a baptism in her hometown were we glimpse the deepness of her tragic sorrow filled life. The title song playing in the background upbeat sets the tone of possibilities to come as Frankie's train passes the very prison Johnny is being released from at that moment.
Al Pacino plays the part of Johnny who is released from prison who heads to New York to find a job and start anew. Frankie, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is waiting on various customers providing clearer focus on her sometimes-playful side while occasionally drifting into thought as the camera focuses past her and to Johnny in the street approaching the cafe for a job. He lands the job and immediately notices Frankie. Johnny fumbles about a few "relationships" with other women as Frankie is cool as a celery stick at first and the film unravels the layers of the two main and several supporting cast of characters lives.
You have the owner of the Apollo Cafe, an old world Grecian who loves his family and soccer, the "sluttish" waitress with a good heart and bad luck in men, the loner waitress who lives alone with her pets, the young studly busboy who can't keep off the phone. At home Frankie has a gay neighbor who is constantly having as much problems in relationships as she is and has been a close friend for years. Frankie's crisis over her feelings for Johnny allows dialog to provide retro-glances of her and her gay neighbors past relationships while revealing the intricacies of their current ones.
Johnny is vivacious and people can't help but like him. Through the death of a long-time waitress Frankie becomes intrigued with the compassion of Johnny who never knew her. Even so it takes tenacity and a bit of comical confusion before Frankie ends up on a date with him that she's not sure she agreed to in the first place. Johnny finally thaws Frankie's heart with a dance on that date at a going away party where she refuses to dance a traditional Greek square dance. He dances with another waitress but during a solo in the circle they can't keep their eyes off each other as he dances flirtatiously for her.
Nearly ever type of relationship is seen in the film. Frankie watches neighbors from her window revealing yet more relationships from an old couple obviously married for years and in the same old routine to a couple where the woman is being abused. The scenes from Frankie's apartment are truly shot as windows into the lives of others and are accompanied by a lonely melody that turns sour at the moment of the neighbor being abused by her husband then back down as the night fades forward.
It is the beaten woman that provides Frankie with the potential to grapple with her own inner demons as she seeks out the lady to try to help in some way. These demons nearly destroy what she and Johnny could have but you'll have to watch to see how it turned out. I will let you know that the film hooks you like a fish then taunts you, reeling you in and just when you think Johnny is going to land Frankie's heart, she makes a run for it.
Timing is wonderful in the film. From the comedy, the tragedy, the romance, and the intrigue of how or will it turn out. The "set" is wonderfully conceived and appropriate for the events to be believable, even the coincidences are cunningly staged to make it a wonderful feel good film and intellectually complementary too.
Music is used to focus the mood from lighthearted, almost without hope acoustic music for transitional scenes, to the use of hard-rap to fortify the downtrodden area in which Frankie lives. Lighthearted Grecian melody augments some of the lighter moments. Throughout the film a jazzy composition that highlights some of Claude Debusy's Clare De Lune (their song later in the film) periodically is used during the growth of their courtship. At least four renditions of the song Frankie and Johnny pepper the films romance and comedy.
Key to the film's success is the actors' ability to effectively portray their characters every nuance and character as flawlessly as they did. Facial expressions permeate the film to communicate subtly and often overtly to augment the dialog of the scene. Most of the characters of the film find themselves in a rut they call their lives and seem mostly oblivious to it. This helps drive home the deepness of the loneliness of many of the characters and helps to accentuate Johnny's positive never say die attitude.
Gary Marshal successfully directs the film and the audience along a roller coaster of emotion. Sometimes angry, sometimes sad, often laughing, and a dash of puzzlement accent the warm and fuzzy that sneaks in. The story may be less popular due to the movie staying true to life in that not all things end as we hope, but shows that hope is worth not giving up on. 1991 must have been a busy year for this wonderful film to lack the awards well deserved by the cast and supporting crew.
In an effort to be objective, I have to say that I don't find the character of Johnny easy to believe in - you could specify the qualities you want in the bloke to rescue your damaged psyche from the walls you are building for self-protection, and Johnny has all those qualities plus a handful more for good measure. But Al Pacino invests him with such magnetic presence that it is easy to overlook this.
Michelle Pfeiffer's Frankie, on the other hand, is all too believable, both in the construction of the character - wounded, hurting, and scared of having those wounds reopened - and in its performance. Pfeiffer is almost too painful to watch.
The gentle humour which runs through Frankie And Johnny makes the painful emotional heart easier to bear, but this would ultimately be a bleak piece were it not for the hopeful note upon which it ends.
The supporting cast are solid, and the screenplay has been opened up nicely from the source stage play.
The role of Frankie in "Frankie and Johnny" might seem to be a candidate for the uglification process, given that the character is supposed to be a plain and drab waitress and that the part went to Michelle Pfeiffer, probably (along with Kim Basinger) the loveliest Hollywood star of the eighties. Fortunately, this temptation was resisted. (I say "fortunately" because, unlike the Academy which handed out Oscars to the uglified Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron, I am not impressed by that school of thought which equates beauty with shallowness). There is no attempt to hide Michelle's loveliness, even though Frankie is clearly a woman who makes little effort to enhance her looks, dressing dowdily and wearing little make-up.
The film is not based on the well-known popular song about a woman who murders her unfaithful lover, although that song is referred to at several points. It is actually based on a play entitled "Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune", shortened to something rather snappier for the film version, even though Debussy's beautiful piano piece still plays an important part. I have never seen the stage version- as far as I know it has never been put on in Britain- but the film, with its concentration on indoor scenes and greater emphasis on dialogue and character development than on physical action, clearly betrays its theatrical origins.
Frankie is a waitress in a cheap New York diner; Johnny is the cook who has recently been released after serving a jail term for forgery. He learned to cook in prison (where he also acquired a love for Shakespeare and other classical literature) and has been given the job by Nick, the gruff but kindly owner, who believes in giving a man a second chance. Johnny falls in love with Frankie, and tries to persuade her to go out with him, but she is reluctant. It is clear that her reluctance stems from her having been hurt by some romantic disappointment in her past, although we never learn the full story. Eventually, however, she agrees to a date with him.
This does not seem the most promising scenario for a film. Admittedly, "Marty", which told a similar romantic story about two ordinary New Yorkers, was a great success in the mid-fifties, but audiences in the nineties generally demanded more in the way of action. "Frankie and Johnny" works, however, because Pfeiffer and Al Pacino make us believe in their characters. Pacino gets the chance to show that he can shine in films other than crime dramas. Pfeiffer gets the chance to show here (as she was to do later in films like "The Age of Innocence" "What Lies Beneath" and "White Oleander") that she is a genuinely talented actress, not merely eye candy. They are well supported by some of the others in the cast, especially Hector Elizondo as Nick and Kate Nelligan as Frankie's colleague Cora. I was less taken with Nathan Lane as Frankie's gay friend and confidant, Tim, who seemed to have too much of the limp wrist about him.
Director Garry Marshall is noted for his ability to bring out the best in his female stars; Goldie Hawn and Julia Roberts both gave one of their best performances in one of his films, Hawn in "Overboard" and Roberts in "Pretty Woman", and he seems to have done the same for Pfeiffer here. "Overboard" and "Pretty Woman" were both (although good examples of the genre), standard Hollywood rom-coms, based around a zany, and frequently implausible, screwball plot. "Frankie and Johnnie", although sometimes characterised as a romantic comedy, is a very different type of film, based on more realistic characters and situations and with a greater emphasis on the romantic rather than the comic elements. It shows that it is still possible to make an effective, and often touching, drama about the love of Mr and Ms Average. 7/10
The chemistry, so palpable between Pacino and Pfeiffer in Scarface, is abundant here in this film. The love scenes between them are realistic and beautifully done. From beginning to end, this movie is entrancing. The lead characters are so earnest and so good that you just want nothing but happiness for them both. After all the hemming and hawing that Frankie does, they do manage to make that elusive connection that Johnny is seeking-both with each other and with the audience. This is an outstanding, highly underrated movie, and I give it a 10.
This film is almost perfect. Terrence McNally wrote both the stage play and the screen play. Clearly, he wrote the screen play better than the stage play. In the stage play, there are only two actors, Frankie and Johnny, and all the scenes take place in Frankie's apartment. And, in the stage play there is so much indiscriminate banter back and forth between the two that the story line seems to get confused at times.
But, in the movie, McNally really develops a smooth story about how both Frankie and Johnny became who they are, and, merges them both together into a possible love duo. By introducing other characters in the restaurant where they both work and in the apartment building where Frankie lives, McNally helps show the life-style being led by Frankie and her vulnerabilities, which Johnny is there to assure her that he will always be there for Frankie.
Both Michelle Pheiffer and Al Pacino are the perfect couple to act these roles. Michelle is a dreamboat whom any man could fall in love with. Frankie is defensive and seeks protection from life's bad turns. Michelle's "emotional breakdown" when she finally shares her past life experiences with Johnny is so well acted that one hangs on her every word.
Johnny has fallen head over heals in love with Frankie and is blunt about telling her. Al Pacino is fast paced and typifies a person with a New York way of life. The conflict between the two characters is strong and makes for an interesting movie which will glue the viewer to their seat.
I watch this movie whenever it comes on cable and I also have the video and play book. Clearly, I prefer the movie to the play in spite of the great reviews the play receives when it is performed on the stage.
The play has much more cursing than the movie. Somehow, I don't think that the soft and subtle character of Frankie is right for her to curse so much in the play. In the movie, her cursing is minimal and gets the point across to Johnny.
Garry Marshall captured the romance in directing this outstanding movie. It is destined to hold a place in romance movies parallel with Romeo and Juliet and You've Got Mail. Watch this movie with a date by your side!