Halle Berry Expresses All Roles in ‘Frankie and Alice’

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CHICAGO – The stunning looks of Halle Berry is always the lead whenever the entertainment media considers her. But in “Frankie and Alice,” she reminds us of why her career continues to flourish and why she is a Best Actress Oscar winner.

Berry plays a complex character ridden with the psychological burden of multiple personalities. Based on a true story, this is the type of situation that as a film could be exploited or trivialized. To the credit of the production and especially Halle Berry, it’s handled with sensitivity.

Berry portrays Frankie, a stripper in Los Angeles in 1973. There is something odd about her, as she is liable to pontificate on several bizarre angles of the profession. After picking up a guy named Cliff (Adrian Holmes), she has a mental breakdown in his presence. She switches from the personality of a streetwise stripper to a bigoted society lady, blathering about religion and the circumstances that surround her. This sudden turnaround seems to crush Frankie, as she ends up on the streets completely disoriented.

She is taken to a hospital psych ward, where she connects with a Dr. Oz (Stellan Skarsgard). He takes an interest in her and the bizarre tendencies, and through hypnosis it is revealed that the society lady named Alice and a little child named Genius coincide with Frankie’s consciousness and come out when there is any stress or trouble in her life.

Free to Be: Halle Berry as Frankie and Stellan Skarsgard as Oz in ‘Frankie and Alice’
Free to Be: Halle Berry as Frankie and Stellan Skarsgard as Oz in ‘Frankie and Alice’
Photo credit: Sergei Bachlakov for Freestyle Releasing

There are secrets in this type of extreme psychosis and Oz works toward exposing those secrets to free the distressed Frankie. Visits with her mother (Phylicia Rashad) and sister Maxine (Chandra Wilson) yield a few background tidbits, but the real mystery is within Frankie, and could be revealed with intensive therapy. Keeping tabs on the elusive patient is the challenge and finding the key to unlock it all.

Halle Berry takes on a monumental challenge as an actor, and succeeds in projecting all of the inner ‘characters.’ What is impressive is that she seems to understand each of them, and imbues all with a sense of presence, which again considering the subject walks a fine line. The different voices she uses are appropriate for each personality, and allows them both to feel the world around them, as well as being within Frankie. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for this under-the-radar performance, and deserved it.

Her supporting cast is competent and helps to keep it real as well. Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard (”Mamma Mia!”) seems like an unusual choice to play Oz, but he gives the character a few quirks beyond the script and although his enthusiasm seems forced, it generally works. Phylicia Rashad, fast becoming the Ruby Dee of the post millennium, portrays Frankie’s mother with a conflicting mask of everything’s-okay happiness, which becomes chilling. Chandra Wilson of “Grey’s Anatomy” adds a little spice to a dully written sister character.

Director Geoffrey Sax creates some cinematic style in the movie, giving it a sheen that rises above some of the more unseemly material. He was working with a script that had experienced six writers and two other story contributors. Scripts by committee are generally weaker, credit Sax for being able to wring out all he could from it.

There are some weaknesses in the narrative arc, particularly with Frankie’s back story. She is portrayed as a housemaid in 1960s civil rights era South, with a complicated relationship with the daughter and son of the wealthy household. This is the root of her psychological problems, but it’s not clear how or why this part of her life made her the way she is. It is presented, but not actualized.

Relations: Chandra Wilson as Maxine and Phylicia Rashad as Edna in ‘Frankie and Alice’
Relations: Chandra Wilson as Maxine and Phylicia Rashad as Edna in ‘Frankie and Alice’
Photo credit: Sergei Bachlakov for Freestyle Releasing

The performances are what makes Frankie and Alice work, and the connection that a burnt out psychiatrist decides to make with a lower middle class African American woman back in a different time and place. It is the human interaction, after all, that is the cause and effect of mental insecurity.

And again, credit Halle Berry for finding and nurturing a story like this, which showcases an ugly part of American social history and the extreme pressure it can put on everyday life and persistence. It spotlights a survival mechanism hidden within us all, the creation of the “facade” and how we present it within normal interaction. When analyzed or focused upon, there is in all likelihood a universal understanding regarding multiple personalities.

“Frankie and Alice” continues its limited release in Chicago on February 4th. See local listings for theaters and showtimes. Featuring Halle Berry, Stellan Skarsgard, Phylica Rashad, Chandra Wilson and Adrian Holmes. Directed by Geoffrey Sax. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2011 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Anonymous's picture

ROLE CLOSE TO HER HEART

It spotlights a survival mechanism hidden within us all, the creation of the “facade” and how we present it within normal interaction.”

True and Halle does do a half-decent job in this role. Her heart was definitely in the subject matter, most probably because she was largely in fact playing herself. Look at her own persona in the public eye — it’s all a facade and now especially being played out in the all-too-public custody battle where her demons are showing themselves in terms of allegations of racism against her ex and her need to control the situation at all costs even to the detriment of her own daughter.

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