Sunday, August 10, 2014

Video review: "Frankie & Alice"


It has been my considered opinion that any work of fiction based on the dubious psychological diagnosis of split personalities is doomed from the start. This sort of movie was already clichéd back in the 1970s, and since then many mainstream scientists have come to the conclusion the whole notion of different identities living inside the same body is bunk.

So I was prepared to detest “Frankie & Alice,” the new drama starring Halle Berry (who’s been slumming a whole lot since her Oscar win). Though I should point that calling this film “new” stretches the limits of the word. Shot in 2008, it was given a brief theatrical release in 2010 to qualify for award nominations – which were scant in arriving – before being dumped into theaters this past spring.

In short, everything about it screams “bomb.”

So I was surprised to discover a reasonably engaging movie featuring a strong performance by Berry, and another one by Stellan Skarsgård, who plays her doctor. The writing is at times amateurish and sloppy – with no less than six credited screenwriters, plus two others for story, this film is a prime example of the pitfalls of screenwriting by committee. But director Geoffrey Sax wisely keeps the focus on what’s best, the tense interaction between patient and doctor.

A delicate dance between mistrust and empathy, Frankie’s treatment by Dr. Oz gradually makes progress in uncovering her various personalities – who vary widely in blood pressure, IQ, left- or right-handedness and even race.

Set in 1974, Frankie is a veteran stripper at a swank club (who nonetheless manages to keep everything covered) and party girl on the side. Her tendency for sudden mood shifts, even violent outbursts, eventually lands in her in a mental hospital.

Dr. Oz uncovers two “alter” identities: Alice, a vain and bitter white Southern belle, and Genius, a timid preadolescent girl who acts as Frankie’s reluctant guardian.

The plot unfolds almost like a crime procedural, with the doctor’s psychoanalysis coupled with flashbacks to Frankie’s past providing clues to the wellspring of her mental breakdown. Phylicia Rashad shows up as her devout mother, who tends to turn a blind eye to her daughter’s dark spells.

“Frankie & Alice” isn’t entirely successful, but it smartly focuses more on the characters than the kooky psychology.

Extra features, which are the same for both DVD and Blu-ray editions, are limited to a single featurette, “The Making of Frankie & Alice with Halle Berry.”

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1 comment:

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