Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino play the titular characters in this superb rom-com about a chef and a waitress who meet while working at a New York Diner.
One of the best romantic comedies I’ve ever seen, Frankie and Johnny works in so many ways. At its core, it’s a brilliant tale of romance with the cold, closed Frankie struggling to relax into the idea of a relationship and to accept Johnny’s impassioned pursuit. But it also feels grounded in reality, with many touches which make it feel far more like real life than most others in the genre.
The first night the couple goes back to Frankie’s they have to fold out the sofa bed in her studio flat, for example. Women are seen drinking beer, people of different ages and races mix, and heterosexual men and women who aren’t dating talk to each other without romantic intent. These sound like small things, but they’re things which are still surprisingly rare in mainstream movies. Little real life touches like this show it’s not unromantic, but also not overly idealistic, and it crucially never feels like the lifestyle porn that is a large quantity of modern rom-com fare.
This is the second time Pacino and Pfeiffer have played an onscreen couple (the first being Scarface), and they are just as good this time, in spite of playing characters that could scarcely be more different. Equally believable are the incredibly well drawn supporting characters, including their co-workers at the diner and Frankie’s neighbour Tim (Nathan Lane), who’s gay even though it’s not relevant to the plot. The supporting characters provide a huge number of laughs, particularly in the form of the pair’s co-worker Nedda (Jane Morris). While two characters’ names are in the title, everyone is important here.
It’s funny throughout, without impacting on the drama in any way. The laughs are subtle, and would be far more exaggerated in many more recent films, to their detriment. A good example of this shift can be shown by comparing a scene in Frankie and Johnny to a scene in last year’s The Dictator.
Frankie and Johnny has a scene where Johnny asks out Frankie while a customer is having an epileptic fit in the shop, the humour arising from the inappropriateness of it and generally strange timing. In The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen’s character proposes to his love interest while their hands are inside a woman who has gone into labour on a shop floor. We actually see their hands coming together inside the woman, in a far less funny scene.
This brilliant rom com is an example of the genre at its best. It’s inoffensive but never bland, with a very enjoyable story, frequent laughs and top notch performances combining to create a film which deserves to be much more widely known.