Early morning last Sunday I watched Frankie and Johnny. I was surprised to see a romantic comedy/drama that I haven’t watched yet, but even more surprised to be one that I had never heard of before. Had I not seen the image of Pacino and Pfeiffer while browsing the tv guide, I would’ve missed it altogether. And I’m really glad I didn’t.
Johnny (Al Pacino) has just been released from prison and got a job as a cook at the cafe where Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer) works. He’s instantly drawn to her, but she keeps resisting his attempts to seduce her. It soon becomes clear that she has trust issues and that she’s been pushing everyone away for a very long time.
Also working at the cafe are Nick (Hector Helizondo), the owner, and waitresses Nora (Kate Nelligan) and Nedda (Jane Morris). The first has a family to support, and the last two, like Frankie, are pretty lonely. Also in the mix is Frankie’s neighbour, Tim (Nathan Lane), who provides some good laughs.
Based on the play by Terence McNally (having himself written the screenplay), Frankie and Johnny is a different kind of romantic comedy: one that actually has compelling characters with interesting backgrounds, and one that doesn’t (always) resort to cliché romantic moments, nor scenarios that are completely out of touch with reality; in fact, it is refreshingly down-to-earth, and its ending is not sugarcoated, or at least not for everyone involved.
Being familiar with Pacino’s work one knows how effortless his acting appears, particularly in more toned-down roles like this one — it is absolutely perfect in its simplicity. Pfeiffer is also believable as a woman who is hurt, unconfident, and vulnerable. I’d say they’re as good constantly fighting in Scarface as they are loving in each other in Frankie and Johnny.