The title is a reference to the traditional American popular song "Frankie and Johnny", first published in 1904, which tells the story of a woman who finds her man making love to another woman and shoots him dead.
Johnny (Pacino) is a middle-aged man, just released from prison who's looking for a job. He's hired as a short-order cook in a local diner where he meets Frankie, an emotionally scarred waitress who is trying to move on with her life after getting cheated on in her last relationship, three years prior to the start of the film. Prior to that, she experienced a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. Her only friends seem to be her friendly gay neighbor Tim (Lane) and her fellow waitresses at the diner. She has chosen safety in solitude. Johnny attempts to win Frankie's heart but quickly realizes it will be quite a challenge in this true-to-life romantic dramedy.Al Pacino as Johnny
Michelle Pfeiffer as Frankie
Héctor Elizondo as Nick
Nathan Lane as Tim
Kate Nelligan as Cora
Jane Morris as Nedda
Greg Lewis as Tino
Al Fann as Luther
Ele Keats as Artemis
Fernando López as Jorge
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was filming in a nearby studio, and Garry Marshall arranged for the actors William Shatner (James T. Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (Spock) to appear fully costumed, out of camera shot, behind a door in one scene in order to elicit genuine surprise from Al Pacino when he opened it.
Frankie and Johnny currently holds a score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 18 reviews, indicating generally positive reviews.
Peter Travers in Rolling Stone wrote: "there hasn't been a sharper, sassier, more touching romantic comedy this year... there's no denying Marshall's expert timing. This is the director's best work yet... In its celebration of cautious optimism, Frankie and Johnny becomes the perfect love story for these troubled times." Janet Maslin in the New York Times wrote: "in the skillfully manipulative hands of Garry Marshall, who has directed from a screenplay by Mr. McNally that amounts to a complete revision, Frankie and Johnny has been reshaped into foolproof schmaltz. 'Foolproof' is the operative word... But somehow Mr. Marshall, Mr. McNally and their superb leading actors are able to retain the intimacy of their material. They also retain the story's fundamental wariness about romance, even when everything about Ms. Pfeiffer and Mr. Pacino has the audience wondering why they don't simply fall into each other's arms." Rita Kempley in the Washington Post wrote: "In its odyssey from stage to screen, Frankie & Johnny has undergone a sunny metamorphosis from ugly ducklings' romance to candy-coated, blue-collar valentine." Time Out summed it up thus: "Pacino wears a vest and bandanna and moons through the part. Pfeiffer plays dowdy. Marshall directs as if Marty had never happened."
Much attention was paid to the controversial casting choices of Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, two actors perceived as "beautiful movie stars" with Hollywood glamour, cast to play "lonely little people struggling to find love," originated by supposed "ordinary" actors Kenneth Welsh and Kathy Bates. Stephen Farber in Movieline wrote: "Michelle Pfeiffer gives a very adept and winning performance in Frankie & Johnny, but she's simply wrong for the part of a plain, world-weary waitress. While Pfeiffer has protested to interviewers that physical beauty cannot guarantee happiness, the fact remains that anyone as gorgeous as she is has a lot more options than someone who looks like Kathy Bates (who originated the role on stage). The star casting robs the material of some of its poignancy." The Washington Post wrote that "casting Michelle Pfeiffer in a role written for Kathy Bates is going to have a definite effect on the story's dramatic weight. That's not to say that Pfeiffer isn't pfantastic or that this isn't the pfeel-good movie of the season. It's just ... well, imagine Kevin Costner as Marty." Variety asserted that no one would "believe that Pfeiffer hasn't had a date since Ronald Reagan was president, and no matter how hard she tries to look plain, there is no disguising that she just gets more beautiful all the time."
However, some critics commended Pfeiffer for her performance, notably Rolling Stone, who called it "a triumph. She is among that rarefied group of actresses (Anjelica Huston, Meryl Streep) whose work keeps taking us by surprise. Her powerfully subtle acting can tickle the funny bone or pierce the heart with equally uncanny skill." The New York Times wrote that "Ms. Pfeiffer's extraordinary beauty makes her fine-tuned, deeply persuasive performance as the tough and fearful Frankie that much more surprising."
Pacino also received critical praise. Rolling Stone wrote: "Pacino, whose recent work has been lugubrious (The Godfather Part III) or broad (Dick Tracy), shows a real flair for comic delicacy." The New York Times wrote that "Mr. Pacino has not been this uncomplicatedly appealing since his Dog Day Afternoon days, and he makes Johnny's endless enterprise in wooing Frankie a delight. His scenes alone with Ms. Pfeiffer have a precision and honesty that keep the film's maudlin aspects at bay." Variety, however, described him as "a warm, slobbering dog who can't leave people alone, Pacino's Johnny comes on real strong, and his pronounced neediness is too much at times."
Kate Nelligan was singled out for her supporting turn; the New York Times wrote that "Kate Nelligan, nearly unrecognizable, is outstandingly enjoyable as the gum-chewing, man-crazy one." Rolling Stone thought that "seeing this Royal Shakespeare Company actress cut loose with this bold and brassy performance is one of the film's zippiest treats."
Frankie and Johnny received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film, along with Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), for its "fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and the issues that affect their lives."
Michelle Pfeiffer was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, but lost to Bette Midler in For The Boys (1991).
Kate Nelligan won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated