. . . . [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.
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.
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"]