“Frankie and Alice” and Dissociative Identity Disorder

Several years ago Halle Berry received a Golden Globe nomination for a movie barely anyone had seen, Frankie and Alice, about a go-go dancer (Frankie) with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Although it’s finally been re-released for a wider audience in theaters, its poor reviews may guarantee it a continued lack of audience.

Apparently inspired by a true story from the 1970’s, Frankie and Alice has a lead character who works with a therapist (Stellan Skarsgard) to deal with alters named Genius, a high-IQ kid who’s seven years old, and Alice, a Southern white racist. The trailer:

DR. JOSEPH OSWALD, THE THERAPIST

Peter Debruge, Variety, calls him “an absent-minded researcher whose methods are progressive by 1970s standards (he uses hypnotism in his treatment and participated in a landmark LSD study), but hopelessly square by today’s.”

Director Geoffrey Sax is given credit, however, for portraying a film that’s “relatively enlightened in its attitudes toward race relations and mental illness.”

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times: “If only Dr. Oz can uncover what happened to Frankie as a girl, he’ll be able to help Frankie. That’s how ‘Frankie & Alice’ becomes a mystery of sorts, with director Geoffrey Sax doling out the answers in heavy-handed flashback scenes including a certain kind of tragedy that keeps happening in movies, and a subsequent trauma that is handled with such overkill it’s like something out of a horror movie.”

Other characterizations include the following:

According to Urbanbridgez.com, actor Skarsgård himself sees his character “as being clumsy, both with patients and people in general.” He states that “Oz takes everything literally and doesn’t understand irony. He’s very cerebral and not in touch with his own feelings.”

Duane ByrgeHollywood Reporter, says Oz is “emotionally drained,” also “essentially a mope who medicates with tuna sandwiches, jazz and liquor.” But then along comes this case that piques his interest.

Farran Smith Nehme, New York Post, appreciated Oz’s “gently rasping voice [that] could coax anyone back to sanity.”

FRANKIE, THE PATIENT

Neil Genzlinger, New York Times: Before knowing what really ails her, what troubles Frankie are her “bursts of odd behavior and frequent blackouts.” This turns out to be symptomatic of DID.

(Other sources indicate that Berry studied DID by watching hours of tapes of people diagnosed with the disorder.)

But Berry’s portrayal of switching to different alters feels badly executed in Genzlinger’s estimation:

…(W)hen she abruptly switches to the voice of a young child or of a white Southern racist — two of the alternate personalities — it’s hard not to flash back to some humorous working of the same territory. (Think of Toni Collette in the Showtime series ‘United States of Tara.’) It may be that this genre has been forever ruined, or just that it requires a more subtle hand than the one exhibited by Geoffrey Sax, the director here.

Richard RoeperChicago Sun-Times, subtitles his review of Frankie and Alice “The Three Implausible Faces of Halle Berry”: 

When Berry is playing Frankie, who is smart and fierce and sometimes funny, even as she’s dealing with the noise in her head, it’s a fine performance. When she becomes a white Southern belle named Alice who spews racist comments and belittles Frankie as a no-good whore, it’s less than believable. And when she turns into ‘Genius,’ a frightened little girl — it’s not good. Every inch of that facet of the performance feels calculated and ‘actorly.’

Peter DebrugeVariety: “Berry shows total commitment to the part, allowing herself to go unhinged in the hands of a director not quite capable of supporting such a risky tightrope act.”

OVERALL REVIEWS

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: “Lamentably by-the-numbers, treated like an affliction-of-the-week TV movie by its eight (!) credited writers and directed by Geoffrey Sax as if he knew where commercials should go.”

Lisa Schwarzbaum, ew.com: “Something awful happened to young Frankie back in 1950s Georgia to make her so broken; it’s just a matter of time, flashbacks, many costume and accent changes, some more jazz, and a triggering tune on the radio before the truth can set Frankie, and the audience, free.”

Duane Byrge, Hollywood Reporter: “Both clinically and dramatically, it’s an engaging titillation despite a somewhat flat last half-hour.”

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