Frankie and Johnny Are Married Movie Review
Here the successful hyphenate (including "-husband") decides to do a play on stage and document the entire effort on film. His wife-star (another new hyphenate?), Lisa Chess, is at first doubtful, but the desire to work overcomes any reticence she may have and she agrees to it. After all, hubby Michael's directorial sense of story ensures her a high standard of drama and character realization, which can't do her career any harm. They agree on a loose adaptation of Terrence McNally's 1980s romantic comedy play, Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune. Lisa suggests another actor with a declining work schedule, old friend Alan Rosenberg (L.A. Law, A Mother's Fight for Justice) for the part of Johnny. Pressman agrees, excitement builds, but now the ugly subject of financing a stage production and a documentary film comes up. The rest of the movie plays like an improv on the anxieties of stage production as it might affect a marriage between creative partners.
What's also on the boards here is a peek behind industry doors. Pressman, in making a point of inclusiveness for his first writing effort, brings in his old and current boss, David E. Kelley, writer-producer-series creator (The Practice, Ally McBeal, Chicago Hope, Mystery, Alaska), for a cameo appearance and a little advice. After all, Kelley, a man on the top of the TV industry mountain, is married to Michelle Pfeiffer, so he should know how one juggles married life and work. Pressman nails him as he's getting into his car at his studio parking space and, as old, dependable, director-chum, asks his elusive chief how he and Michelle handle the marriage-work conundrum. Kelley looks up at Pressman, meeting his querying eyes as his motorized car window goes up like a screen wipe. Safely enclosed within his private air-locked space, obscured behind the reflection of a sound stage, Kelley drives off. Pressman takes the non-answer knowingly while industry types who read the trades will have a chuckle. I laughed out loud.
This docudrama accomplishes its primary mission, which is to showcase Lisa Chess' talent. Perhaps the slowdown in her career is due to getting buried at a younger age in Pressman's TV series (Picket Fences). Since then she's managed to do a few guest appearances in Kelley TV-land (Chicago Hope, The Practice), and a few movies (Separate Lives) but clearly her filmography shows no great momentum. She deserves better as, arguably, the equal of anyone in her age category and type (Christine Lahti and Glenn Close maybe), and this film succeeds in raising hopes that the exposure will bring her casting offers. That's what showcases are for, aren't they?
Secondarily, this little vanity production becomes much more as a behind the scenes exposé - not of anything sordid - but of the mind and world of a legitimate, working, industry director who shares with us his bedroom, his industry bosses, the mechanics of his professional techniques, and the much more difficult-to-express, somewhat daring personal relationship issues. He keeps it light and playful, but it's also a hint of this couple's embrace of art and marriage.