The Front Row View is a regular column by Great Stories contributor Jim Cannizzaro. He is a veteran community theater leading man, seasoned blogger, movie enthusiast, and family man.
Finally to St. Valentine’s Day and what, IMHO, is THE best Hollywood romantic comedy. Garry Marshall’s overlooked 1991 Frankie and Johnny was adapted from Terrence McNally’s 2 character off-Broadway play Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune. Marshall and McNally opened it up from Frankie’s apartment to include other locations, as well as additional characters (memorably played by Nathan Lane, Kate Nelligan and Hector Elizondo, among others). The originality of this film lays in the aura of melancholy that drifts amongst the two main characters, both losers in life who would like to re-establish themselves, but are struggling to do so. Johnny, likeably played by Al Pacino in an underrated performance, served 18 months in prison for forging a check. He finds work at a Greek diner as a short order cook. Once there, he falls for Frankie, played by the luminous Michelle Pfeiffer in one of her strongest performances. Frankie is recently divorced and is juggling many personal issues of her own. To them, she now has to add Johnny. When Johnny first meets her, he’s struck by a lightning bolt. He wants it all from her and tells her…marriage, kids, everything. Frankie’s been doing more pushing away in her recent relationships than pulling in and constantly rebuffs Johnny’s attempts at courting her. Johnny, however, won’t take no for an answer. The film is full of witty banter. Some of it is sitcom-ish, to be sure (Marshall is the creator of TV’s Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy), but it’s directed with such swiftness and skill, and is performed so ably by the talented cast that it hardly matters. Pacino and Pfeiffer give career-best performances, and Marshall and McNally craft a thoughtful and meditative film that manages to deliver the hearts and flowers in tasteful amounts. Happy Valentine’s Day!