It’s been said, that if you want to get nominated for an Academy Award, all you have to tackle is the part of a crazy person or, better yet, a retarded one (yeah, come to think of it, retarded is always a better choice to make). Halle Berry already has herself a well-deserved Oscar (Monster’s Ball), but, hey, her mantle could use another one! And so, she made her play as Frankie Murdoch, a woman with a deeply troubled mind and past, in the Oscar bait flick Frankie and Alice.
Now you might think with the two names in the title, there could be a relationship in the mix. You’d be right. And wrong. There is a relationship, just not in the classic sense. Alice is a separate personality and Frankie doesn’t know she is there. Alice is a snooty son of a bitch — doesn’t like to drink or smoke and doesn’t like to be touched. Frankie is a free spirit — indulging in everything her other part despises. They don’t mix so well together and as such, what starts out as a night of fun lands Frankie a stint at the psych ward (instead of jail). Lucky for her, she gets placed under the care of Dr. Oz (Stellan Skarsgà¥rd), a man who, against the will of his superiors, is intrinsically interested in her well being and refuses to dump her back onto the streets. You see, a side plot of Frankie and Alice is white – black relations and its effect on people and, to a smaller extent, society at large.
And while the acting is relatively good on all fronts, it’s this underlying theme that plays out in a very amateurish fashion (which is hard to accept, since the movie is based on the life of a very real person). Director Geoffrey Sax never grasps onto the subject matter, and his clumsy flashbacks present it as if it is an after-thought to Frankie’s condition instead of the driving catalyst that has her in this precarious situation. He does, however, get it mildly better when exposing the prevailing attitudes of the “haves” when dealing with the “have nots” of the early 70s.
I mentioned the acting is relatively good; the relatively portion sits squarely atop Ms. Berry’s shoulders. For the most part she carries herself well; things go a bit awry when she goes under hypnosis to channel the personalities residing in Frankie’s mind. I couldn’t help but see these scenes as if they were part of an acting class. “Halle, now you’re a Southern belle,” cues the coach and Halle begins talking with a proper Southern accent. “Now, you’re a baby.” Halle starts in with annoying lispey goo-goo-ga-ga whiny talk (guess I should have mentioned there was a third personality living within Frankie). “Okay, now you’re a sassy girl again.” Repeat this sequence several times, as Dr. Oz tries to get to the root of her issues. How Skarsgà¥rd manages to keep a straight face is beyond me — I couldn’t not laugh.
As for how well the good doctor is portrayed, let’s just say he is like every other Skarsgà¥rd role – solid, smart and slightly broken. Particularly good, however, is Phylicia Rashad as Frankie’s mother. She presents herself as a very loving, caring and protective mother — only later do we learn that there may be a few things she is keeping a tight lid on. Even when pressed for the truth, Rashad, keeps her character from wavering from the loving, caring faà§ade she’s developed. It is a most harrowing trait she possesses and seeing Mrs. Huxtable (Cosby Show reference) doing it makes it all the more off-putting.
What you’ll notice is there were no Academy nominations for Frankie and Alice (not sure how there was one for the Golden Globes though) and that is a good thing. For a movie that supposedly took 12+ years to bring to screen, it isn’t very strong on any level. Therefore, I will rephrase the hypothesis from the beginning of the review: To get nominated for an Academy Award, all you have to tackle is the part of a crazy person or, better yet, a retarded one — you just have to do a semi-believable job of it.