Frankie & Alice (2010)
Editor’s Note: Frankie & Alice is now open in limited release and on VOD
The eight individuals in total credited for Frankie & Alice under story and screenplay make terribly tempting—too tempting for many, no doubt—the allure of an arguably insensitive joke. But to suggest the movie might share the dissociative identity disorder of its subject is to mistakenly assume each of the films it looks likely to become at any given moment would have any identity of its own. As directed by television mainstay Geoffrey Sax—last seen on the big screen with the ill-fated Alex Rider outing Stormbreaker—Frankie & Alice, the true-life tale of a dancer beset by multiple personality disorder, is a film that wouldn’t know personality if it slapped it in the face. By the end credits’ arrival, it’s all you can do to wish it would.
But to suggest the movie might share the dissociative identity disorder of its subject is to mistakenly assume each of the films it looks likely to become at any given moment would have any identity of its own.
“I contain multitudes,” quotes the reluctant psychotherapist who takes on the case, but we need only look a line earlier in Whitman to find a thought all the more fitting: “Do I contradict myself?” Frankie & Alice does, early and often: the eponym—Frankie is her birth name, Alice the most dominant of her “alters”—opens the film describing the distance she feels from herself as she dances before the eyes of ogling men, a depersonalisation she, and the movie with her, later denies. To term the film troubled in its outlook on mental illness is an almighty kindness: sharing a staggering total of three prior credits, it’s clear the cadre of scribes weren’t selected for scripting experience; if any of them has insight into the actuality of DID, there’s no shred of evidence alive onscreen.
A production credit—her first, EP entitlements aside—for star Halle Berry suggests passion project, but passion misdirected is a paltry mess indeed. Those driven to decry the jaw-jutting exteriority of A Dangerous Method’s Keira Knightley might find fresh nuance now: hers was, if physical to boot, every inch a psychological performance; Berry, by contrast, is more in line with Linda Blair’s efforts in The Exorcist. It’s the film’s folly, to put it lightly, to envision mental health issues as akin to demonic possession; that Berry commits utterly to the role only amplifies its absurdities. Oh yes, it’s a Golden Globe-nominated performance alright, and even an organisation as amusingly undignified as the HFPA earns eyebrows cocked for associating with something so unashamedly showy.
It’s the film’s folly, to put it lightly, to envision mental health issues as akin to demonic possession; that Berry commits utterly to the role only amplifies its absurdities.
Un-squint those eyes, you read it right: the film comes armed with a laurel to tout, though you’d be forgiven for forgetting. The nomination dates back to 2011, after an awards-qualifying run the previous December seduced the star-swooning standards of the HFPA. It’s the growing market for African-American helmed films, Variety claims, that sees three years of dust being blown off, but surely there must be something better on the shelf. Drive DP Newton Thomas Sigel at least gives it a glossy glam, if one drowned in Sax’s paltry penchant for soft-focus flashback set to the tune of distantly-echoed dialogue. He gives the script a treatment every bit as typical as it deserves, as devoid of flavour and any vagrant trace of filmmaking finesse.
If there’s a saving grace—and that’s an if that lingers long—it’s the terrific charm of Stellan Skarsgård, who even when tossed around from mental mystery to dark drama manages to make a little fun of the film. Animatedly embarking on a tangent about the Latin origins of Frankie’s middle name, he seems for a moment to have stepped back in time from Nymphomaniac. If only there were more fly fishing and Fibonacci numbers. Unlike the rest of the movie around him, Skarsgård exudes an energy that aids immensely in his scenes of confrontation with the psychiatric hospital’s head. Maybe it’s because he could well be talking to the film as he chides his traditionalism: “That’s an incredibly unimaginative way of looking at it”.
Frankie & Alice gives the script a treatment every bit as typical as it deserves, as devoid of flavour and any vagrant trace of filmmaking finesse.