There was a romantic comedy boom in the 1990s but “Frankie and Johnny” is different from most of them. There is no Hollywood glamour. The lead actors are not young models of unattainable beauty. Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer were stars in their own right, but they play older characters from humble backgrounds. Frankie and Johnny are broken people struggling to get by in their working-class jobs. Their incredible performances make “Frankie and Johnny” well worth watching.
Pfeiffer was criticized for being too conventionally beautiful for the role, which was originally written in the play as frumpy, overweight, and unattractive. However, Pfeiffer delivers an exceptional performance as a jaded woman with deep emotional wounds. She has a defeated aura illustrated by the dark circles under her eyes, downturned mouth, and limp-hanging hair. Johnny helps peel away her tough layers, culminating in a devastating final monologue where she reveals the reasons for her pain.
Pacino brings his usual theatrical energy to the role, especially with Johnny’s love of Shakespeare. His dogged pursuit of Frankie — showing up at her bowling night when she asks him not to, switching his shifts to see her at work — borders on obsession but comes from a place of deep loneliness. His ex-wife has replaced him with another man and he never sees his kids. Before falling for Frankie, he sleeps with another waitress at the diner just to feel something and hires a sex worker just to cuddle with.
There are no crazy mishaps or mistaken identities that bring these characters together. Their conflict is quiet and simple, rooted in their own fears of exposing their true selves. The only thing that gets in the way of their romance is their own hesitation.