Frankie and Johnny (1991) Directed by Garry Marshall. With Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Nathan Lane, Hector Elizondo and Kate Nelligan.
Way before ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘New Years Eve’, there was a time when Garry Marshall was the undisputed king of the ‘rom-com’. After the huge success of Pretty Woman – a film that had more than a whiff of a fairytale to it – Marshall produced a more mature offering with Frankie and Johnny; a tale of two working class people (Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer – try not to snigger) who meet while working together in New York cafe.
With a fine screenplay by Terrence McNally, adapted from his own play ‘Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, the film slips into a comfortable rhythm thanks also in part to collection of very good performances headed up by the two leads. Most romantic films, especially Hollywood ones, have at least a sprinkling of fairytale magic about them, yet while Frankie and Johnny certainly has, it doesn’t wear it as brazenly as Pretty Woman. Marshall wants his audience to have a deeper connection with the characters here. Thanks to the casting of Pfeiffer and Pacino, he achieves just that.
In part, the film is about the life baggage we carry with us into new relationships. From one angle it’s about learning to love again. From another, its about about making a new discovery in love when you thought you’d seen and heard it all. Frankie (Pfeiffer) hasn’t had the best of luck in life. Beautiful and smart, we get the impression she’s somehow lost her way. Complete with greasy hair, cobbled together outfits and a faint Brooklyn accent, Pfeiffer escapes her star status, playing Frankie’s temperamental tendencies with a sharp blend of wit and bite.
The ying to Pfeiffer’s yang is Pacino’s Johnny. Despite his diminutive stature, Pacino is often known for being the biggest guy in the room, certainly in terms of presence. Reuniting with Pfeiffer nearly a decade after Scarface, he cooks ups another excellent performance as he endeavours to charm his way through her steely front.
Marshall ensures his film has a lived-in buzz. Neither Frankie or Johnny have nice apartments. The cafe where they work is friendly and inviting, but you can almost smell the food and feel the steam emanating from the cluttered bowels of its kitchen. It’s also notable how good the supporting performances are. Frankie’s gay man-friend, played by Nathan Lane, steals every scene he’s in, while Kate Nelligan is also very good playing a waitress at the cafe.
Frankie and Johnny might not stand tall in the pantheon of American drama/rom coms, but once the final credits roll, you might have enjoyed it a lot more than you dared to expect. I know I did. 4/5