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Film / Frankie and Johnny

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You never choose love. Love chooses you.
Johnny: You don't have to be afraid anymore.
Frankie: I am. I'm afraid. I'm afraid to be alone, I'm afraid not to be alone. I'm afraid of what I am, what I'm not, what I might become, what I might never become. I don't want to stay at my job for the rest of my life but I'm afraid to leave. And I'm just tired, you know, I'm just so tired of being afraid.
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Frankie and Johnny is a 1991 American romantic comedy film directed by Garry Marshall. It stars Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, their second collaboration after Scarface (1983). Nathan Lane, Héctor Elizondo and Kate Nelligan appear in supporting roles. It is a film adaptation of Terrence McNally's two-person play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. The play in turn gets its name from an old American Murder Ballad "Frankie and Johnny", about a woman named Frankie who shoots and kills her lover, Johnny, after finding him with another woman.

Frankie (Pfeiffer), a young woman with a Dark and Troubled Past waitressing at a New York City diner has sworn off relationships. Her only friends seem to be her neighbor, Tim (Lane) and her coworkers at the Apollo Cafe. This changes when recently released ex-convict Johnny (Pacino) gets a job as a short-order cook there. Johnny falls in love with her, but how can he convince her to learn to trust again?

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Not to be confused with the 1966 film of the same name starring Elvis Presley, or the 1936 film co-starring Lilyan Tashman, or the 1928 play that the latter was based on.


Frankie and Johnny provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Casting Michelle Pfeiffer as Frankie was controversial due to the fact that Frankie, in the original play, was intended to be a somewhat frumpy, self-conscious and plain woman.
  • Benevolent Boss: Nick to his employees.
  • Big Applesauce: Almost the entire film takes place in New York City.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Johnny must convince Frankie to learn to trust and love again.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Johnny's behavior may even go a little past this. Showing up at her apartment and bowling night when Frankie specifically asks him not to, changing his shifts after she changes hers to avoid him, and calling her incessantly after she tries to end things with him.
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Tim: [after repeated phone calls from Johnny] Excuse me, Johnny, I've got to hang up. We're expecting a call from you any minute.
  • Domestic Abuse: Frankie was abused by one of her previous boyfriends, once to the point of causing her miscarriage and rendering her unable to have children.
  • Dying Alone: Frankie and Cora fear this after Helen dies alone in the hospital.
  • Gay Best Friend: Tim to Frankie.
Johnny: [waiting for Frankie] I have a cousin who's gay, by the way.
Tim: Oh, most people do.
Frankie: Ready!
Johnny: He's a really great guy.
Tim: I'm sure.
Johnny: He just found out he was gay a couple of months ago.
Tim: Well, I'll look him up in the directory. Under the new entries.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Johnny calling up the radio station and asking for an encore of Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune" in a desperate attempt to make Frankie let him stay. It works.
Johnny: Now, there's a man and a woman. He's a cook. She's a waitress. Now, they meet and they don't connect. Only, she noticed him. He could feel it. And he noticed her. And they both knew it was going to happen. They made love, and for maybe one whole night, they forgot the 10 million things that make people think, I don't love this person, I don't like this person, I don't know this- Instead, it was perfect, and they were perfect. And that's all there was to know about. Only now, she's beginning to forget all that, and pretty soon he's going to forget it too.
  • Greasy Spoon: Nick’s Apollo Cafe.
  • Lonely Funeral: Helen's funeral. No one besides her coworkers show up.
  • Never Be Hurt Again: Frankie's reason for not wanting to get into a relationships due to how badly she had been hurt in her past ones.
  • Love Confession: Johnny makes one to Frankie on her bowling night. It doesn't go well.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Johnny solicits a prostitute his first night out of prison but just asks her to sleep (clothed) next to him in bed.
  • Workplace Romance: Frankie and Johnny both work at Nick's Apollo Cafe. Causes a bit of a problem when Frankie and Johnny are broken up and she changes her shifts in an attempt to avoid him. Then he changes his shifts too...
  • Woobie: Both Frankie and Johnny are damaged people with sad pasts.


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