Halle Berry got a Golden Globe nomination in 2011 for her lead role in Frankie and Alice, but you’ve probably never heard of the film because unless you were one of the few people able to catch its tiny awards-qualifying run the year before, it hasn’t been available to see until now. This past Friday, CodeBlack Entertainment released the film, which was directed by Geoffrey Sax (Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker), in 50 markets after years on the shelf, capitalizing on Berry’s star power. And now, the public is finally able to see one of the most gloriously overachieving bids to win an Oscar ever made.
Frankie and Alice opens with a note that it’s based on true events, though those are filtered through six credited screenwriters into something that’s pure Hollywood. Berry plays Frankie, a savvy, free-spirited stripper living in L.A. in 1973, who hides her occupation from her mother (Phylicia Rashad). Frankie’s been struggling with blackouts and keeps coming across evidence of things she doesn’t remember doing and being confronted about actions she has no memory of.
Although Frankie likes to party, she’s not forgetting certain events in her life because she’s an addict; rather it’s because she has dissociative identity disorder, as Dr. Oz (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers when she ends up in his care. She’s developed two other personalities: one, a lisping little girl, and the other, a haughty, racist Southern belle named Alice. Yes, one of Frankie’s personalities is a white supremacist who doesn’t seem to clock the race of the body she’s inhabiting.
This may sound like a variation on a certain Chappelle Show skit, but there’s very little about Frankie and Alice that’s not very serious…while also being outsized. This is certainly true of Alice, who isn’t just a bigot, but is a languid Blanche DuBois type who buys herself pricey dresses when she’s in charge and who drawls to Frankie’s doctor, “They actually smell different from you and me, don’t you find that? Negroes.” Meanwhile, the little-girl personality cowers and lisps — but also has a genius-level IQ that she’s been using to solve crossword puzzles when Frankie’s absent.
Even with the racial component — which is provocative, but isn’t utilized for anywhere near its full, incendiary potential — Frankie and Alice seems to acknowledge that, whatever the real-life dissociative identity disorder is like, the movie version exists solely to allow actors to show off. The film serves as a kind of Olympics of acting — there’s the stripping (involving a cage and no nudity), hallucinations, scenes of verbal dueling with a psychiatrist, a meltdown while in the psychiatric hospital, multiple accents, multiple personalities, and the inevitable epiphany, which involves hypnotism and a dark revelation from the past. The only thing missing from Academy Awards bingo is some dramatic weight loss or gain.
It’s as impressive as it is cliché-filled and over the top, with Berry consuming the movie whole. She gives her all to material that doesn’t deserve it but that she was clearly drawn to, given that she’s also one of the film’s producers. It’s evidence that the material that’s juiciest for performers doesn’t always turn out to be as rewarding for audiences.
Since winning an Oscar for her ferocious turn in Monster’s Ball in 2001, Berry’s played roles in huge films like Die Another Day and the X-Men sequels, but she’s gotten very few meaty parts that have allowed her to stretch as an actor. The industry continues to serve up a very limited number of good roles for women, not to mention women of color. It may be why Berry, like many female film actors, is looking to television for her next project — she’s set to star in CBS’s upcoming sci-fi drama Extant. Here’s hoping it offers her opportunities that don’t require weeping through baby talk.