'Frankie and Alice' review: The awards contender that wasn't

'Frankie and Alice'

'Frankie and Alice' (April 3, 2014)

*1/2 (out of four)

Usually awards bait actually gets a proper release. Yet after a brief run in late 2010 landed Halle Berry a Golden Globe nomination, “Frankie and Alice” disappeared.

Until now. And until a few minutes into the movie, I’d forgotten that I’d already seen it three years ago. Not a good sign. Also not a good sign: “Frankie and Alice” comes from a team of six writers whose most notable credit is “Save the Last Dance.”

Most of the time, Frankie (Halle Berry) is a charismatic L.A. stripper (at a club where the dancers apparently stay completely clothed) clever enough to take advantage of her physical gifts while still protecting herself. Sometimes, though, her mind seems to flip a switch that turns her into a different person altogether—a real puzzle for psychiatrist Dr. Oz (Stellan Skarsgard of “Nymphomaniac”). Fortunately, when tests show Frankie has divergent personalities, the results are treated with less watch-out-everyone-wants-to-kill-you paranoia than in “Divergent.”

The then-44-year-old Berry has no trouble passing for 32. Aside from a moment when she flip-flops between Frankie and Alice and looks like an “Exorcist”-style demon is fighting to get out of her, she’s not bad in a role that also includes Frankie’s third personality—a child her doctor calls “Genius.” Yet the movie reduces multiple personality disorder to haunted memories and melodramatic flashbacks with limited insight about the reality of this true story and its long-term effects. It’s intriguing that while Frankie is black, Alice is a white racist. Something has happened to Frankie that caused her to reject her past and herself, which is always a fascinating concept.

Of course, her unconscious, uncontrollable tendency to disappear inside herself is presented as a soapy, easily unraveled mystery, instead of an informative look at mental illness and how a tragic past can foster a correspondingly difficult present. Also unconvincing is Oz, a pretty lousy psychiatrist with a pointless subplot about his wife leaving him, being told that jazz opens up a person’s subconscious without the use of hallucinogens. That must be why no famous musician ever dabbled in the hard stuff, right?

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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