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Review: Despite Bold Performance By Berry, 'Frankie and Alice' Is Uneven & A Bit Awkward (In Theaters Friday)

by Vanessa Martinez
April 3, 2014 8:53 PM
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Frankie and Alice, directed by Geoffrey Sax and starring Halle Berry in the titular characters, is based on true events in the life of Francine “Frankie” Murdoch, a black woman who was severely hindered by multiple personality disorder. The film takes place in the early 70’s, when Frankie (Berry) is finally diagnosed with and begins treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder under the care of Dr. Oswald (Stellan Skarsgard), soon after our protagonist is found half-dressed and passed out the middle of traffic. 

The opening scene finds Frankie working as an exotic dancer. After her caged stage dancing segment - an oddly orchestrated sequence - is over, she’s in the establishment’s dressing room wondering if she indeed filled out a crossword puzzle after one of the dancers acknowledges her of doing so. But Frankie has no recollection. We begin to see her go into frequent "trances” in which she has vivid flashbacks – shown intermittently through the film – along with violent rages. 

The film follows a rather traditional and generic storyline, filled with plenty melodrama and narrative clichés. Ultimately, we find out, what events – as a young teen girl working as a maid during the Civil Rights Era - led Frankie to mental trauma and torment for most of her young adult life. 

The premise of the film alone is enough to keep you engaged throughout the duration. There are taboos of mental illness – especially of this type – in the black community. Frankie’s other personality of a racist southern woman is also a bizarre and interesting element of her illness. Some of the best scenes are between Berry and Skarsgard, the latter’s performance adds a layer of authenticity to the film. Phylicia Rashad, who portrays Frankie’s concerned and bewildered mother (who harbors a secret), is another highlight of the film.

However, the film is uneven as a whole. 

A few scenes when Frankie is transforming into her two other personalities – Alice, the racist southern white woman and a child named genius – are awkward to watch because they seem forced and overacted. To Berry’s credit, playing a woman with Multiple Personality Disorder is a challenging “gig” to pull off, and Berry does have several lucid moments in her performance, and, as the tough and streetwise Frankie, Berry is likable and watchable. 

The general treatment and execution of the film - its aesthetics and score – are akin to a TV film, and an entertaining one at that. In respect to television, Frankie might be have been better suited for such platform and, perhaps, have been more successful in reaching its intended audience (Lifetime, OWN anyone?).

Score: C+

Frankie and Alice opens in select theaters Friday, April 4, 2014 via Codeblack Films.

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More: Reviews, Halle Berry

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  • Tish | August 17, 2014 12:14 AMReply

    This is a good and interesting movie. The negative reviews are unfounded. A contemporary step up from Out of Darkness, both films, each starring an iconic leading lady, highlight very real disorders that some live and cope with. It just doesn't get any realer than real life. As well, Halle did an awesome acting job. This film deserves far better credit than it's receiving.

  • CAP56 | April 10, 2014 4:08 PMReply

    I saw "FRANKIE AND ALICE" opening weekend and really enjoyed it. I thought Halle Berry did a great job. The story was interesting and it kept my attention throughout. Though she didn't have much on-screen time, Phylicia Rashad also gave a powerful performance. I love seeing actors of color starring in serious, dramatic roles. I didn't find this to be a bad film at all, but one deserving of support. By the way, I loved "OUT OF DARKNESS" too. "FRANKIE AND ALICE" may not have been quite as effective, but it doesn't deserve the poor reception it has received.

  • brown bomber | April 6, 2014 8:43 AMReply

    I must say in the filmmakers defense, that we all have become accustomed to other performance whether serious or comedic that have gone in the past. Where the changes in characters are supposed to appear more noticeable or sudden. However, Halle has stated now, and in 2010, that she watched hours upon hours of footage of sessions with people suffering from "dissociative disorder" or "multiple personality disorder" and that what we expect as an obvious change or "have been come accustomed to" is not necessarily the case. So a lot of us bring these pre conceptions to performances associated with this kind of portrayal. That's really without us knowing or realising that we are.

    No one is saying its the greatest film ever. It's a damn good performance, or attempt at something most actors dread taking on for sheer fact people will say what some of YOU and other's are saying currently. It's really a damned if you DO or damned if you DON'T.

    But it is a subject deserving of being told. Especially in the light of our reluctance still in "our community" to discuss or deal with mental illness of any kind. I personally find the fact that Frankie went on to become Lecture at prestigious American Education Institution of Higher Learning, astounding with all that she had going against in that period of time, with people's attitudes to mental illness.

    It's important that films like this do get support. So others can also get made... bottom line!

  • sergio | April 6, 2014 9:59 AM

    Hate to flog a dead horse but c'mon you really believed that b.s. at the end where it says that "Frankie went on to become Lecture at prestigious American Education Institution of Higher Learning" what is the hell does that means? Who is Frankie? What was her real name? Does she even really exist? And what was this "American Education Institution of Higher Learning": where she is supposedly now lecturing? Or is that made up to just to put a fake happy ending on the story. As I've said you want to see a far superior film on mental illness check out out of darkness with Diana Ross or a new inde filmthat's about to come out called Unsound by Darious Britt. You can't praise a bad movie just because it means well

  • Donella | April 5, 2014 1:31 PMReply

    It won't be the first time I experienced a good performance in poorly-written film. Denzel's done that several times.

  • Ava | April 4, 2014 5:10 PMReply

    Six credited screenwriters?!! I thought WGA guidelines stipulated that you couldn't have more than three credited screenwriters!

  • Roberto | April 4, 2014 11:58 PM

    It was really more like 3, there were 2 writing teams and 1 additional writer so it wasn't 6 writers working independently.

  • JustSayin | April 4, 2014 2:20 PMReply

    I attended a screening of this film with Berry in attendance when it came out. I would encourage any S&A visitors to go and see this film. Berry does a really solid job of acting -- her best since "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge." I think a poor marketing plan, and lack of support, from the studio is more to blame than anything else with regard to why it wasn't considered for an Oscar the year it came out. ...And I've always thought that Halle is to be commended for trying to stretch as an actress, and not be relegated to roles based, solely, on how others project their own insecurities or problems with themselves onto her. ...That being said, when's the last time Hollywood even attempted to tackle such an important, and complicated, issue as mental illness? ...Which is why people should support this movie.

  • sergio | April 4, 2014 3:48 PM

    "That being said, when's the last time Hollywood even attempted to tackle such an important, and complicated, issue as mental illness? ...Which is why people should support this movie"

    True but why support a film on a subject if it's not done well. I'm sick of that "we've go to to support this though it's not good" line of reasoning. If you want to see a superior film on the same subject of mental illness with a fantastic lead performance then search out that Diana Ross TV movie Out of Darkness. Puts Frankie and Alice to shame

  • sergio | April 4, 2014 11:40 AMReply

    I actually wrote a review of this three years ago back in March 2011. Didn't like it much back then either. I can't post the link for some reason so here's what I wrote

    I must be getting senile in my old age. For example, just today, I remembered that back in January I saw Frankie and Alice with Halle Berry. You know, the film that supposedly would make her a shoo-in for an Oscar nod for Best Actress, and we all know how well that turned out.

    The fact that I just now remembered that I saw it should give you a pretty good idea just how good the film is. And along with the fact that the film was barely released, and is going straight-to-DVD, should give you an even better idea about the film.

    So I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible, but here’s a clue: when you see SIX screenwriters listed in the opening credits for a film, that can’t be good sign. I don’t think there’s ever been a film made with six credited screenwriters.

    It means: 1) that a hell of a lot more screenwriters worked on the film uncredited, trying to salvage a bad script, 2) when the final shooting script went into arbitration with the Writers Guild (which is what automatically happens when more than one writer works separately on a script), there were so many versions to read, and in trying to make head or tails over who did what, the Guild just gave up, and credited the six writers, and 3) it’s going to be a mess.

    And it is.

    Basically, Frankie and Alice is your routine Jennifer Love Hewitt-starring Lifetime movie about a stripper with multiple personalities; except that it’s Halle instead of Jennifer. And even if it was on Lifetime with Jennifer, it STILL wouldn’t be any good.

    Halle gamely tries, but clearly is not given any help at all by the script, which is pedestrian, superficial and totally cliche-ridden (Though when she sometimes awkwardly goes into her “little 8 year old girl” voice, as one of her personalities, it becomes rather laughingly ludicrous). Nor do any of the other major players in the film (Stellen Skarsgard as Halle’s therapist trying to break through her mental barriers, and Phylicia Rashad as her mother) come off well either. They are left floundering, stuck with poorly defined, one dimensional caricatures, instead of real people, with Skarsgard practically sleepwalking though his part. The only thing we’re given about him in terms of depth and characterization, is that he likes jazz music.

    But let’s not get too hard on poor Halle, even though I’m sure many of our readers are so tempted to. Not even Meryl Streep with all her acting prowess, would have been able to get through this part, looking good either.

    Frankie and Alice is just simply a badly written, ploddingly-directed, instantly forgettable film, as evident by the fact I mentioned earlier. If you want to see a really good performance by her, then take a look at Things We Lost in the Fire; you can skip this one.

    I mean there’s not even one good, or even halfway passable, nude scene with her in the film for crying out loud!

  • Amina | April 4, 2014 4:44 PM

    I'm so glad that you mentioned "Out of Darkness" starring Diana Ross. She was superb in that role and I'm a lukewarm fan. Billie Holiday was a good starter, however, she brought it home with that role.

  • Marie | April 4, 2014 9:21 AMReply

    As Martinez says in her review, mental illness is one of the hardest performances for an actor to give and is probably as hard to direct. It's easy to over do it. I give Berry a huge amount of credit for tackling this role but I doubt she has the skill set to pull it off successfully. It's sad because it feels like Berry's spent a lot of her career, even before the Oscar, trying to prove she's more than a beautiful face. I can see Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Angela Bassett or Alfre Woodard possibly being more convincing in this role. They simply possess more skills. Having said that, I'm curious enough to see this on Netflix.

  • Shanae | April 4, 2014 8:00 AMReply

    I do want to see the film, but this review really scares me. Along with Sergio's comment that there were 6 screenwriters writing a film about a dissociative identity disorder...sounds like a recipe for disaster.

  • Roberto | April 4, 2014 12:04 AMReply

    I loved the movie!! Everyone go see it!

  • Going? | April 3, 2014 11:19 PMReply

    This seems to detract those from seeing the film. Isn't the whole point to promote Black films?

  • Marie | April 4, 2014 9:14 AM

    The film has been promoted by this site from its inception. Promoting and blindly supporting are two different things. This was one person's review of the film and each individual can take whatever they want from it. If people are turned off from experiencing a film solely based on one review, that's their problem and not a problem of the review.

  • sergio | April 3, 2014 11:12 PMReply

    You also should mention that the film credits SIX screenwriter which might be a record for any film. Which means that way more than six worked on the film and the Writer's Guild determined that the finished script was the work of six of them which is why the script is so uneven and such a hodge pogde

  • sergio | April 4, 2014 1:14 PM

    You can't compare the old days when screenwriters were under contract to studios working on the studio lot with an open exchange among writers under the studio system and today where it's all individuals working separately from each other over the course of years

  • Mark & Darla | April 4, 2014 11:54 AM

    Six person wrote Casablanca and it came out even.

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