Johnny has just been released from prison, and gets a job in a café beside waitress Frankie. Frankie is a bit of a loner, but Johnny is determined their romance will blossom.Johnny has just been released from prison, and gets a job in a café beside waitress Frankie. Frankie is a bit of a loner, but Johnny is determined their romance will blossom.Johnny has just been released from prison, and gets a job in a café beside waitress Frankie. Frankie is a bit of a loner, but Johnny is determined their romance will blossom.
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
- Sep 19, 2007