Frankie and Johnny (1991)
Pfeiffer's Reservations Over Pacino
I am. I'm afraid. I'm afraid to be alone, I'm afraid not to be alone. I'm afraid of what I am, what I'm not, what I might become, what I might never become - Frankie
"Frankie and Johnny" has its roots in a stage play and as is usually the case when a play gets adapted into a movie it's a wordy affair, a movie which revolves around characters and a lot of dialogue. But at the same time "Frankie and Johnny" feels more expansive than your normal adaptation of a stage play, thanks to various locations and a lot more characters. Whether Terrence McNally's original play was as expansive I am not sure but in many ways it makes "Frankie and Johnny" watch able as we watch a romance form between two lonely people.
Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer - The Witches of Eastwick) is a waitress in a New York cafe, who after some unhappy relationships lives a quiet life, preferring to protect herself from more upset by staying at home. But when Johnny (Al Pacino - Sea of Love), a recently released con, is hired to work as a short order cook in the cafe things start to change as he immediately falls for Frankie spotting a kindred spirit in his new colleague. Whilst Johnny tries his hardest to win Frankie over, she tries to protect herself from being hurt again and is wary about getting into a relationship.
To be totally blunt the storyline to "Frankie and Johnny" is predictable, from the minute Johnny first claps eyes on Frankie you know where things are going to end and you would be daft not to guess that the route from the proverbial A to B will not be a smooth one. But "Frankie and Johnny" is not so much about wanting Frankie and Johnny to get together but understanding their characters, why Johnny needs closeness whilst Frankie struggles with relationships, preferring the security of her apartment where she can watch others from her window.
The trouble is that whilst watching their relationship form is entertaining and has some lovely scenes especially the exquisitely crafted final scenes in Frankie's sun lit apartment there is something about "Frankie and Johnny" which just doesn't feel right. It's billed as a romantic, comedy and drama yet it doesn't really score that highly on any of them. The romance is both pleasant and predictable but it doesn't feel completely believable, one minute Frankie can't stand Johnny, resisting his advances yet the next she succumbs to his charms. Then there is the comedy side of things and those few moments which are designed to make you smile, and this is a smile movie not a laugh movie, feel forced and manufactured, thrown at you to lighten the mood. And then there is the drama side of things and whilst the turbulent romance has some touching almost dramatic moments it's all too obvious and expected. Basically "Frankie and Johnny" doesn't really pull it off, failing to really find its place.
What is almost annoying is that there are some really great scenes, honest and realistic which deliver the emotion of the storyline, the emotion of these two lonely characters. But because these scenes are few and far between they end up the highlights in a movie with trudges through a lot of mire to get to them.
As for the acting well Al Pacino restrains his exuberance, well most of the time, and creates an appealing character, handsome, lively and has genuinely a good soul. But part of me thinks that Pacino was just wrong for the role because I couldn't believe for one moment that he was a lonely guy and his overly thoughtful dialogue thanks to his love of reading doesn't feel right even if we are to believe he spent time reading whilst doing his time inside.
Michelle Pfeiffer does better and delivers that believability, shedding the more glamorous side to portray a character that is naturally beautiful yet doesn't look a glamour puss, showing an almost worldly tiredness, of being hit on by men and the turbulence of relationships. It's a strong performance which only suffers because the way the story develops her relationship with Johnny just doesn't feel right. And it has to be said that whilst Pacino and Pfeiffer are too good looking stars the chemistry between them just doesn't spark on the screen, it doesn't really work.
As for the supporting cast, well the wonderful array of quirky people we meet through the restaurant are entertaining from Jane Morris as Nedda through to Hector Elizondo as Nick but they are ultimately stereotypes. A prime example of which is Nathan Lane who plays Frankie's friendly gay neighbour Tim, a character which oozes cliche to the point it feels almost corny.
What this all boils down to is that yes "Frankie and Johnny" is entertaining but it could have been so much more. It just doesn't have that believability about it thanks to the dialogue, various scenes and surprisingly the casting of Al Pacino who whilst a great actor is just wrong as Johnny. It also doesn't help that it is neither very funny, very romantic nor very dramatic so it ends up meandering along telling the tale but never reaches the peaks it so deserves to.
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