The Al Pacino Blogathon: Frankie And Johnny(1991)

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Gabriela over at Pale Writer is hosting this blogathon dedicated to the actor Al Pacino. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. I’m writing about the romantic drama Frankie And Johnny, a film which saw Al reunited on screen with his Scarface co-star Michelle Pfeiffer.  

The film is based on the 1987 off-Broadway stage play Frankie And Johnny In The Claire de Lune. This play originally starred Kathy Bates as Frankie and F.Murray Abraham as Johnny. The play closed in 1989, but it was revived in 2002, this time on Broadway. The revival starred Stanley Tucci as Johnny and Edie Falco as Frankie. The play focused entirely on Frankie and Johnny and was set in one apartment. The film however takes most of the action outside of the apartment, and also focuses on other people, just as much as it focuses on Frankie and Johnny and their developing relationship. 

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Johnny presents Frankie with the potato rose. Image source IMDb.

Frankie and Johnny is set in New York. We follow Johnny(Al Pacino), a reformed ex-con who gets a job as a cook at a small restaurant run by the kindly Nick(played by Garry Marshall film regular, Hector Elizondo). Johnny falls for Frankie(Michelle Pfeiffer)who is one of the waitresses there. The pair like each other and develop a real connection, but as time goes on Johnny can see that Frankie is keeping him at a distance for some reason. She slowly opens up to him and tells him about the past trauma of an abusive relationship which has made her so afraid of being intimate with men. While we know it won’t be easy going for this couple due to Frankie’s issues, we are never the less left feeling hopeful that there will be a future in store for this couple. 

The film is surprising in many ways because it goes against the predictable formula of these types of films. It’s a slow burn film, and it also has a much more serious and emotional edge to it than many other romantic dramas or romantic comedies do. The thing about this film that always stays with me most after I’ve watched it, is that the story and all of the characters within it play out as being very real. You feel like you are watching real people who are just trying their best to get through a difficult life and find whatever happiness and satisfaction they can.  This is also one of those films where you are able to see past the actors and just completely see them as the characters they are playing.

This is a story that I think many people will be able to feel a personal connection to when they watch it, as it’s a film about loneliness, love, pain, hesitation, friendship and about accepting change. Mostly it’s about our need and yearning for human connection and love – be that connection coming about through friendship, sex, hugs, or merely talking to someone else and spending time with them.

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A plate of food and a side order of flirtation. Image source IMDb.

I especially love the sequence where we see all of the main characters in their homes one night. We see how lonely most of them are and we catch a glimpse of what they do at home after work to not feel so alone. I’m always touched in this sequence by the shots of Nedda(Jane Morris) and Helen(Goldie McLaughlin), who are two older waitresses who have no family or lovers to come home to. All that keeps Helen going is her friendship with the girls at work. All that keeps Nedda going is her pets, her TV, and her friendship with the girls at work. This sequence shows that not all of us have someone to cuddle up in bed with, and that for some people their job and their team are lifelines as they’re all they have. We’re all lonely and we’re all waiting to get lucky and find someone who we can share our lives with.

This is one of my favourite films of all time. I first saw it when I borrowed the video. I went into the film completely cold not having heard of it before or knowing anything about it. I only knew Al, Michelle,Hector and the director, Garry Marshall. After I watched it, I absolutely fell in love with the film and the characters.  I adore the friendship and banter between Frankie and her friends/colleagues at the restaurant. I also love the slowly developing relationship between Frankie and Johnny. I love the little glances shared between the two, the talks and the flirtation, and eventually how they give in and act on their growing feelings. 

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Frankie and Johnny share a kiss. Image source IMDb.

Al and Michelle give two of the best performances of their respective careers here. They each completely convince as their characters and make us fall for each of them as much as Frankie and Johnny start falling for each other. They both perfectly capture the mixed up emotions of their characters, while also convincing us of their growing desire to be intimate with one another and begin a long term relationship, even if they know it’s not going to be an easy step for them to take. I don’t get how Al and Michelle were never paired together again more often after this.

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Al Pacino as Johnny. He’ll make you swoon! Image source IMDb.

Al’s performance as the optimistic and lovely Johnny is one of my favourites from amongst his work. He makes Johnny tender, sexy, gentle, and so much fun. Johnny is a total sweetheart and it’s nice to see him romancing Frankie for the emotional connection, rather than merely just to get her into his bed. Al makes the guy completely sincere too. Watching this makes you wonder where all the men like Johnny are at these days.

If you’re used to seeing Al being larger than life on screen, then I think you will be pleasantly surprised by his far more restrained and subtle performance here. I also like how at ease Al looks doing the food preparation scenes. I’m no expert but he sure looks like he knows his way around a kitchen and has some serious cookery skills. He’s great in the whole film, but I especially love his acting in the bowling alley scene. In this scene he makes us see how hurt and confused Johnny is that Frankie is hiding something from him and keeps trying to push him away. 

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Michelle as Frankie. Image source IMDb.

I think Michelle’s performance as the damaged Frankie is easily one of the best performances she’s ever given. From her posture to her expressions, Michelle utterly convinces as a weary woman who has been badly hurt, who is desperate for love, but who is so afraid of being intimate with someone because of her past trauma. I love how raw her performance is in the scene where Frankie breaks down and tells all to an appalled and comforting Johnny. When Michelle was initially cast in the role there were some who felt she was wrong for the role as she was too good looking for the character. Well Michelle proved all the doubters and haters wrong with her superb performance here. She’s always been one of the best actresses of her generation, but here she outdoes herself. 

The only part of the film that strikes a false note for me is the subplot about the woman who Frankie witnesses being abused in an apartment opposite hers. Frankie doesn’t call the police over what she has witnessed, and then she conveniently happens to run into this woman at a supermarket,in which they both happen to be at the same time on the same day, and persuades her to leave the man she is with. 

Although it’s fair to say Al and Michelle are the highlights of the film, the rest of the cast all turn in terrific performances. Nathan Lane is great as the supportive Tim, a gay friend and neighbour of Frankie. Kate Nelligan is hilarious as the outgoing and sexually forward Cora, another waitress at the restaurant, who is also Frankie’s best friend. The passionate Cora beds Johnny during an awkward one night stand very early on in the film. In this absolutely hilarious scene, she is clearly having the time of her life in bed, while poor Johnny on the other hand just looks scared! Al’s face during that whole sequence is hilarious.🤣

This is a lovely and touching film which keeps it real, while also offering us a spark of hope that happiness and a soulmate could be out there waiting for you. My favourite scenes are the following. Johnny making Frankie a rose out of a potato(aww!). Frankie and Johnny’s night of passion. The entire bowling alley scene. The kiss in front of the flowers. Frankie telling Johnny what happened to her. The phone call to the radio station. Cora and Johnny’s one night stand. The cake machine going crazy. 

Highly recommended to fans of Al and Michelle. 

8 thoughts on “The Al Pacino Blogathon: Frankie And Johnny(1991)

  1. Paul S

    Beautiful review of a beautiful film. How is it possible to get any better than Al and Michelle? They’re sublime here. I love the final scene with Debussy’s wonderful “Clair de Lune” weaving it all together. Like you, I can never understand people who say that Michelle was “too beautiful” to play the role of Frankie. As if someone can’t be beautiful and unfortunate. For me she was totally believable, in the subtle and understated way she conveyed her emotions.

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  2. Zoe K

    Great review (and thanks for the fantastically written reminder that I really need to watch this again)! They used to play it on TV a lot years ago and I loved it, but haven’t seen it in years. Pfeiffer and Pacino are one of those pairings that seems odd on the surface, but work SO WELL in this film. It’s one of my favorite Pacino roles and performances. (Love that you included your fave scenes, too!)

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  3. palewriter2

    I love this write up, Maddy! You perfectly captured the essence of the film and what makes it so special. I wish that more intimate dramas would be made in this same stream. I first saw this film as a teenager and didn’t fully appreciate it. I rewatched it recently and cried my eyes out. It’s just so good! As you say, Al looks divine in this movie. I want to be that bandana 😉 As you so rightly pointed out, he and Michelle are amazing together. I’m still hoping they’ll make another movie together, one like Our Souls At Night. Thank you for writing such a lovely piece for my Blogathon 💜

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  4. Charity

    I love this film too and I agree, it surprised me that with such great chemistry, Michelle and Al were never in multiple films together. I appreciated that this is one of his more restrained performances, and I found Johnny’s connection to Frankie quite touching.

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