FRANKIE AND JOHNNY. (1991) BASED ON THE STAGEPLAY ‘FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE’ BY TERRENCE MCNALLY. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY GARRY MARSHALL.
STARRING AL PACINO, MICHELLE PFEIFFER, NATHAN LANE, KATE NELLIGAN, JANE MORRIS AND HECTOR ELIZONDO.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘You never choose love. Love chooses you.’
‘We were a couple before we ever met.’
This is a romantic comedy by the guy who’s to blame for PRETTY WOMAN, possibly the most unrealistic screen portrayal of a prostitute ever. Most prostitutes don’t look like Julia Roberts, and most prostitutes don’t get whisked away from their seedy, sordid lives by billionaires who look like Richard Gere.
It’s a pure fairytale, a princess-and-her-knight-on-a-white-charger fantasy, in which the woman gets ‘saved’ from her cruddy life by Some Guy. Some Controlling Asshole, more like. I never liked PRETTY WOMAN, partly because of the mad above-mentioned storyline and partly because I could never stand Richard Gere.
I adore FRANKIE AND JOHNNY, though, despite the fact that it, too, depicts Michelle Pfeiffer’s life as Frankie to be the saddest, loneliest most pointless existence ever. Until Al Pacino as Johnny, her knight-in-shining-armour, comes into it, that is.
Then she’s all fulfilled and happy as a woman, and it’s all thanks to This One Man. Grrrrrr. It’s a good thing that I happen to really like Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino. They were great together in SCARFACE and they have good chemistry here too.
Frankie is a waitress in Nick’s (Hector Elizondo) greasy spoon diner in New York. She wears the little cute pink waitress dress and the little scuffed trainers with the ankle socks, and she ties her limp greasy hair up in an anyhow old ponytail.
She has good friends at her job, even though the other three waitresses working at Nick’s are mostly there to portray for the viewer the Three Stages Of Spinsterhood. Cora is the past-her-prime slutty one with a heart of pure gold who can still pull a bloke for sex, but each subsequent rubbish one-night-stand at her flat, with her pet moggy watching, just takes another great big bite out of her empty soul which can ill afford it.
Nedda, whom I personally love for her don’t-give-a-shit individuality, is the dowdy virginal one who’s probably never had sex and who goes home alone every night to her pet turtle. A bit like twin spinster sisters Patty and Selma from THE SIMPSONS. And yet she’s funny and witty with a great dry sense of humour and a have-a-go attitude. Just look at her up dancing!
Helen, the eldest of all the waitresses who’s worked at Nick’s for donkey’s years, is the real cautionary tale as she dies alone and, we presume, unloved, near the start of the film. Although we can clearly see that each of the three waitresses is a wonderful woman with so much untapped potential, the film is clearly warning us lady viewers to Find A Man Sharpish Or We’ll End Up Like One Of The Waitresses In FRANKIE AND JOHNNY.
Anyway, Frankie has been messed about big-time by guys so, when we meet her, she thinks she’s off men for life. She has her little self-contained flat which has a terrific view of all her neighbours’ places (think Jimmy Stewart in REAR WINDOW), and she has her lovely funny Gay Best Friend Tim and his new boyfriend Bobby for company when she needs them.
She’s just bought a VCR for herself and there’s a pizza place nearby, so she’s totally sorted for her evening’s sustenance and entertainment when work finishes for the day. What the bloody hell does she want with a man? If she needs a lightbulb changing or a fuse mending, she’s got the two gay lads to rush to the rescue.
(Now, she might of course know how to do-it-herself but, having seen her efforts with the new VCR, this is doubtful. The film is heavily implying that, if she had a man in her life, she wouldn’t have to worry her fluffy little head about nasty things like recalcitrant VCRs. Hmmm.)
Frankie’s still immersed in her mind in the bad relationships of the past. She’s reluctant to move on and reluctant to relinquish the pain and suffering of this self- same past. We’ve all been there. Nestling the pain of past break-ups permanently close to our bosoms can excuse us from risking the doubts and uncertainties inherent in getting involved with someone new.
Frankie’s more used to the pain, you see. She carries it around with her everywhere. She wears it like a bloody badge. It’s all nicely and safely within her comfort zone and, in order to get her to leave it, you’d nearly have to prise her out of it with a knife like she was a piece of shellfish not at all keen to leave the safety and security of the shell. She might as well have FRAGILE: I HAVE BEEN HURT BY MEN BEFORE tattooed across her forehead for all to see.
And then along comes Johnny, ex-jailbird (don’t worry, it was only for petty fraud, nothing more serious!) and Nick’s new quirky short-order cook at the diner, to confound and confuse all Frankie’s sensibilities and all her nice neat notions of what love is meant to be like.
Johnny is open about his feelings for Frankie. Despite her best efforts, she’s attracted to him too and they start seeing each other. But Johnny very much believes in living in the here-and-now and judging people on their merits as he sees them, whereas Frankie is still dwelling in the painful territories of her disastrous romantic past and she now tars all men with the same brush.
You’re a man? Oh, right, well, you’re obviously a cruel abusive bastard like the other men I’ve known and I want nothing whatsoever to do with you. Johnny, however, takes great exception to being tarred with this rather grubby brush and tries to show Frankie that not all men are shits. He’s got an uphill job ahead of him, though.
Johnny’s trouble is that he won’t stay in his little box, in the neat little compartment in Frankie’s life marked ‘Men.’ Like when he shows up at her bowling night and she’s completely flummoxed because it’s her bowling night, not his. How dare he show up unscheduled, making himself popular with Tim and her gal-pals?
FRANKIE AND JOHNNY is another fairytale, another fantasy romance in which the woman is saved by a man, and not even a billionaire this time but a short-order cook and ex-con. The message being, I suppose, that if you’re a woman flirting with middle-age whose biological clock, let’s face it, is probably going like the clappers, then any man at all will do to arrest the rot, as it were. I hate that idea, but I really do love this film. Why?
Oh, it’s just everything, you know? It’s the chemistry between the two incredibly attractive leads, it’s the New York setting in which anything wonderful, however unlikely, might happen. It’s the beautiful and delicate signature tune by Claude Debussy.
It’s the soul and the indefatigable spirit of The Waitresses (Christmas Wrapping, anyone?), and it’s the hope that exists within each and every one of us that, no matter how shit things get, there’ll always be that one perfect person out there for us. So you didn’t know that I was a hopeless romantic, huh? Well, whaddya know? Ya learn something new every day…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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