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Frankie & Johnny's courtship plot is romantic but sexist

FRANKIE & JOHNNY

Directed by Garry Marshall.

Based on the play by Terrence McNally.

Starring Al Pacino

and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Now playing at the Loews Cheri.

By MARIE E. V. COPPOLA

IFELT QUITE AMBIVALENT ABOUT Frankie & Johnny -- on one hand, the film is entertaining, well-made and well-acted by an outstanding cast. On the other hand, it condones advances that, while well-intentioned and honorable, fall far outside the bounds of respectful behavior.

In contrast to the screenplay, also written by Terence McNally, the play (Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune) takes place almost entirely in Frankie's apartment. The screenplay adds many locations, including the diner where Frankie and Johnny work, the apartments of a couple of co-workers and Frankie's mother's house in Altoona, Penn. Staging the film according to the original play, while it certainly poses a greater challenge for both director and cast, would have yielded better results. Marshall takes this approach in the last third of the film, and both Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino rise to the challenge and perform admirably.

Marshall's multi-location technique was effective in the early-morning glimpses into the private lives of the supporting cast. These glimpses, which explore the theme of loneliness, would not have been possible had Marshall not expanded the cast and the locations of the original play.

I was a bit dubious about Pfeiffer's credibility as a weary, lonely waitress in her mid-30s, having only seen her play more traditional, glamorous Hollywood roles (not to mention that she will soon appear as Catwoman in the upcoming Batman movie). But Pfeiffer gives a convincing performance as the abused, mistreated, never-get-involved-again Frankie. Pacino, for his part, also does a good job with the idealistic, straightforward Johnny, although even his smoldering good looks and personal charm cannot overcome the lines and boorish actions that McNally has rewritten for him in the screenplay.

Johnny's invasive persistence in pursuing Frankie is the disturbing part of the film. His actions toward her almost reach the point of harassment. For example, he arrives at her apartment to pick her up for a date she has not agreed to; he joins her and her friends on her bowling night (after she has specifically asked him not to come); he calls her repeatedly after she makes it clear she doesn't want to speak to him. Johnny's actions are seemingly justified by his certainty that he and Frankie are destined to be together "just like in the song."

Marshall and McNally stack the deck -- they want the audience to like Johnny, and they hope that the audience will ignore his offensive, "I know what's best for you" approach to love. Filmmakers should be ashamed to pass off subtle sexism under the guise of romantic courtship.

Although Marshall effectively conveys the deep-seated loneliness of several of the characters and how each chooses to deal with it, his message is overshadowed by Johnny's overbearing courtship of Frankie and occasional blasts of sappiness. Frankie & Johnny has its good points, but you have to be willing to swallow some antiquated attitudes along with them.