The Daily Stream: Frankie And Johnny Makes The Ordinary Beautiful

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Frankie and Johnny"

Where You Can Stream It: Starz

The Pitch: From the director behind "Pretty Woman," "Frankie and Johnny" reunites Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer eight years after co-starring in 1983's "Scarface." The romantic comedy could not be more different than Brian De Palma's gangster epic. It is a sweet portrait of ordinary people who find love in a lonely world. Johnny (Pacino) is a divorcee recently released from a Pennsylvania prison on a forgery charge. He becomes a short-order cook at Apollo Cafe in New York, where he meets a quiet waitress named Frankie (Pfeiffer). Frankie has been hurt by her past abusive relationships and wants nothing to do with romance. But Johnny falls hard for her and struggles to get Frankie to open up and be with him. "Frankie and Johnny" chronicles the slow blossoming of their romantic relationship.

Based on screenwriter Terrence McNally's 1987 play "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune," he makes several changes in adapting it, including moving the action from the sole location of Frankie's bedroom to the diner. He populates the film with eccentric New York characters, be it Frankie's harried co-workers, fussy customers, or a gay neighbor. The ensemble characters are written in a cutesy, sitcom style that borders on saccharine. The addition of these characters, and the small glimpses into their daily home lives, expands the narrative outside of Frankie and Johnny's love story. Their inclusion shows how despite our differences, we are all looking for some sort of connection — even in a city as big as New York.

Why it's essential viewing

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.

A different kind of romance

"Frankie and Johnny" portrays a grounded and authentic romantic relationship. They have honest conversations about the difficulties of life, such as when Johnny tells Frankie about his suicidal thoughts:

"I want to kill myself sometimes when I think that I'm the only person in the world and that part of me that feels that way is trapped inside this body, that only bumps into other bodies, without ever connecting to the only other person in the world trapped inside of them. We have to connect."

When they share a stilted first kiss, their mouths are open wide — as if they are hungry for a passion they have not experienced in a long time. They are both yearning for a connection.

"Frankie and Johnny" rejects the starry-eyed fantasies of the romantic comedy genre. There are no grand gestures. There's no running through the airport or interrupting a wedding. The film has a maturity that understands the kind of relationships that endure are not based on fleeting moments of over-the-top romance, but the small, everyday things. We see this in the final scene where Frankie and Johnny watch the sunrise while brushing their teeth together. There is a tranquility that comes with having someone to share your ordinary life with.

"I know I can't make the bad go away. You're right, I can't. But when the bad comes again, I'm gonna be next to you," Johnny tells Frankie. The film shares the important lesson that love will not solve your problems or make you whole. But Frankie learns that if you take chances and allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable with others, you might find something beautiful.