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