Monday, April 11, 2005

David Denby

. . . . [T]he casting of Michelle Pfeiffer in a part created onstage by Kathy Bates has been criticized in some quarters as a classic case of Hollywood prettification. Pfeiffer's performance should end the sniping. The point, after all, is not what an actress looks like but whether she can use her looks to play a role. Her face colorless, her mouth drawn down, Pfeiffer sticks her elbows out and walks with the flat-footed stagger of a hoss that's pulled too many loads and feels pain in its hindquarters. Her Frankie is a guarded, closed-in woman, a woman who doesn't like to be looked at and who doesn't like compliments.

Pfeiffer studied for the role by sitting in a New York coffee shop with Marshall for hours at a time. On the set in Los Angeles, she consulted a dialogue coach and three local waitresses who served as technical advisers. The performance has undeniable authenticity, but in the long (perhaps fifteen minutes) closing scene--a scene that should become famous--Pfeiffer goes well beyond authenticity. The camera moves in, and we see Frankie as intimately as we have seen anyone in recent movies.

David Denby
New York, Fall Preview, date? p. ?

. . . . Johnny . . . falls in love with a waitress, Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer), a cranky, self-protecting person who guards her space like a street gang holding a block. She's fierce. At first, as Johnny offer his love, she thinks he's a faker. Then she realizes he's serious, and she's truly frightened and outraged.

Garry Marshall's Frankie and Johnny is, I suppose, no more than a bittersweet valentine to a man who's desperate for love and a woman who's afraid of it, but it's been made with so much sympathy, delicacy, and true intelligence that it's a triumph of sorts--a gallantly hopeful commercial comedy about love in the age of AIDS and the VCR. . . .

Pfeiffer's Frankie, we gather, has been hurt badly in the recent past. A literal-minded, negative person--she always throws cold water on herself--Frankie wants everything to be up front; she doesn't like being played with, and Johnny is all play. Pfeiffer does lots of exasperated, anxious bits, drawing her mouth down and shifting her eyes in disgust, letting an extra sag of disapproval settle into her bone-weary waitress's walk. Make no doubt about it: This glamorous beauty can play a drab, defeated person with conviction. In getting Frankie's funk down right, she draws, I would guess, on all her fears of performing. When we finally find out how Frankie has been hurt, the explanationisn't exactly a surprise, but Pfeiffer, describing the violation she has felt--continues to feel--gives us the most heartbreaking five minutes at the movies this year.

David Denby
New York, October 14, 1991

[For Denby, perhaps use the review but make some points from the earlier piece, or vice versa. These points esp are not repeated: [The point is not an actress's looks but whether she can use her looks to play a role], [Pfeiffer draws, I imagine, on her own fears of performing], and note both the 5-minute "heartbreaking" and 15-minute "intimately"]

Terrence Rafferty

. . . . The strength of the play was it simplicity and its directness; the movie preserves those qualitites by telling the story in the ordinary, straightforward Hollywood manner. "Frankie & Johnny" is now a vehicle for Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, and that's as it should be, too; in the movies, there's nothing simpler and nothing more direct than the sight of actors we love pretending to fall in love with each other. Pacino and Pfeiffer are more glamorous than the characters they're playing, but, in a weird way, their star power is perfectly appropriate here: it's the meat-and-potatoes stuff of big-budget movie entertainment.Error! Reference source not found.

Besides, the presence of Pacino and Pfeiffer guarantees that our interest in the main characters' relationship won't be overwhelmed by all the supporting characters and peripheral activity that McNally and Marshall have added. . . .

. . . [T]he stars' performances elevate the material; they supply "Frankie & Johnny with movie-scale authority and resonance. . . . [combine with previous paragraph? sure!]

Pfeiffer is extraordinary. In this picture, she doesn't appear to be wearing any makeup, and her hair just hangs there, and her wardrobe is unglamourous (mostly jeans and a frumpy waitress's uniform); she still looks smashing. (McNally's description of Frankie in the play script--"striking, but not conventional, good looks"--is apt if you read "not conventional" to mean "supernatural.") Her Frankie is beautiful in the way of a woman who doesn't know that she's beautiful, or doesn't want to know. Pfeiffer makes us understand that being attractive to men hasn't, so far, done Frankie a lot of good--that she's rather play down her looks than risk attracting more trouble. The actress seems to bring together in this character the different qualities of several of the women she has portrayed on-screen in the past few years: the tough cookies of "Married to the Mob" and "The Fabulous Baker Boys"; the reluctant Mme. de Tourvel of "Dangerous Liaisons," trying desperately to repel the advances of an implacable suitor; the honest, reserved Soviet heroine of "The Russia House." And this is a role that requires her to use everything that she has learned from her previous work. Frankie is, in her closed-off way, a far more volatile character than Johnny, because, unlike him, she's never quite sure how she feels or who she wants to be: she veers between the urge to surrender to her lover's vision of her and the impulse to resist that temptation at all costs. Her feelings change course very quickly, and Pfeiffer, without doing anything showy, makes every one of these emotional shifts lucid and thrillingly natural. Frankie isn't a happy woman, but Pfeiffer never lets the character become drab or mopey. The story wouldn't work at all if Frankie weren't, in some sense, as passionate and willful as Johnny: we have to feel that there's as much energy and vigor in her defensiveness as there is in his aggressiveness. Although it's perfectly apparent to us that Frankie has allowed herself to settle for a life of low expectations and modest rewards, there's something perversely bracing in the way she fends off Johnny's attempt to invade her narrow emotional turf. Her ferocity is a sign of life, and Pfeiffer does full justice to it. This is a superbly detailed rendering of a woman with a fanatically conservative heart.

. . . . Frankie speaks to the part of us that wants to postpone the inevitable. She won't just give in to Johnny's fully developed romantic script, accept the whole package on faith; she has to study it, to figure out how its details adds up, to decide--in her own sweet time--whether this story makes sense for her. (She has the temperament of an extremely demanding critic.) . . . . In "Frankie & Johnny" McNally produces the exquisitely attenuated pleasure of romantic comedy by a different method [than the "classic Hollywood romantic comedies of the thirties"]: the obstacles in the path of love are all internal. That's why . . . "Frankie & Johnny" is still essentially a two-character piece. The machinery of farce--the opening and closing doors, the unlikely hiding places, the hastily assembled disguises--is flet rather than seen, because it's inside Frankie and Johnny. As we watch them, we can sense the thoughts and emotions that are scurrying across the private movie screens in their heads. And when the farce is played out and the lights come up, for Frankie and Johnny and for us, we understand why romance and comedy make an ideal, inevitable couple.

Terrence Rafferty
New Yorker, date?

Stanley Kauffmann

. . . . The director, Garry Marshall, who did Pretty Woman and thus has experience in freshening up the trite, does fairly well. His best work is not with the camera but with Michelle Pfeiffer as Frankie. Pfeiffer's part has a small range, full of vernacular emotion, and Marshall, as he did with Julia Roberts in the earlier film, helps Pfeiffer to inflect it in everyday terms.

But the film is doomed because of the casting of Johnny. . . .

Stanley Kauffmann
New Republic
November 11, 1991


Michelle Pfeiffer
Frankie and Johnny 1991

Get Kael from New Yorker interview