Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer

To paraphrase the classic ballad, Frankie and Johnny are sweethearts, but Lordy, how long it takes them to love. That's the rub in this otherwise winsome urban romance—a sort of hip-funky hybrid of Marty and The Shop Around the Corner—that relies on very large stars to carry the lives of very small people. "I'm a BLT-down sort of person," says Frankie the waitress (Pfeiffer) to Johnny the short-order cook (Pacino), "and I think you're looking for someone more pheasant-under-glass."

Of course the audience knows that Pacino and Pfeiffer arc two of Hollywood's dandiest birds. Screenwriter Terrence McNally's slender tale (adapted from his off-Broadway hit Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune) is even supported by the likes of Kate Nelligan and Hector Elizondo (a favorite of director Garry Marshall, e.g. Pretty Woman). Nelligan, one of the truly great actresses of our lime (Eye of the Needle, Spoils of War on Broadway), has a marvelous time slumming at the Apollo restaurant as Pfeiffer's stiletto-tongued pal. Running the beanery, this time with a Greek accent, is the estimable Elizondo.

Meanwhile the romance soars here and stumbles there, often over contemporary clichés: Why is it that every time a film heroine has romantic woes, the bottom has to fall out of her grocery bag? Pacino and Pfeiffer may well charm you out of your seats, but by the time you leave the theater you may well wonder why. (R)

Sam Waterston, Tess Harper

This is a coming-of-age movie, but don't let that put you off. While it doesn't bypass every bromide of the genre—yes, there's a skinny-dipping scene; yes, there's a love scene in tall grass—it is hoisted by good writing, Robert Mulligan's sensitive direction and fine performances, notably by newcomer Reese Witherspoon, as a spunky adolescent, and Tess Harper and Sam Waterston, as her parents.

It is the end of a Louisiana summer in the 1950s, and 17-year-old Maureen Trant (Emily Warfield) is waiting impatiently for life to make its presence felt. Her 14-year-old, Elvis-mad sister, Dani (Witherspoon), doesn't quite see the problem. After all, Maureen has a scholarship to Duke and the local boys in a swivet. "You're so pretty it hurts," Dani says.

But Dani is on the edge of far greater beauty. She has the long legs of a Derby winner, honey-colored hair that won't stay in a pony tail and a smile that could give you hope in February. She gets a crush on a neighbor boy (Jason London) who seems to return her affection. Until he meets Maureen. Though Man in the Moon has a few cloying moments that seem straight out of The Waltons, there is nothing gauzy or synthetic about it. Mulligan, who directed To Kill a Mockingbird and Summer of '42, has a terrific sense of place and of the places in adolescents' hearts. One scene, Maureen showing Dani the proper way to kiss, is itself almost worth the price of admission. (PG-13)

  • Contributors:
  • Mark Goodman,
  • Joanne Kaufman.