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Movie review: ‘Frankie & Alice’

Frankie & Alice

* * 

Director: Geoffrey Sax

Cast: Halle Berry, Stellan Skarsgard

Rated: R (sexual content, strong language, drug use)

Running time: 101 min.

Posted 12:50am on Friday, Apr. 04, 2014

Frankie & Alice is a movie that’s late to the game.

Released in selected markets in 2010 to qualify for that year’s awards season — star Halle Berry was nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe — it’s just now seeing a national rollout four years later.

On a more substantive level though, Frankie & Alice feels like a film that might have been groundbreaking 40 years ago but has cable-TV movie of the week written all over it in 2014.

Based on actual events, it tells the story of Frankie (Berry), a black go-go dancer in early ’70s L.A. with a terrible secret: She suffers from multiple-personality disorder and the most dominant of those personalities, Alice, is a Southern white racist.

As Frankie’s mental problems worsen, she can no longer keep up the appearance of a normal life and, after a violent outburst, she’s sent to a psychiatric hospital. Most of the doctors think she just has substance-abuse issues, but one, Oz (Stellan Skarsgard, Thor), correctly believes there’s something deeper at work.

He takes it upon himself to find the source of her issues, and it’s a detective’s game that has him hunting through her Georgia childhood.

It is an intriguing premise and there are fascinating details — for example, each of Frankie’s personalities has different IQ levels; one needs glasses, another doesn’t. But in the hands of TV director Geoffrey Sax ( Dr. Who, Van Helsing Chronicles) and nine writers, Frankie & Alice has all the artistry of one of those “The More You Know” TV public-service announcements.

Berry gives a showy “I want an Oscar” performance that has its moments but seems contrived, even if it is based on a true story. On the other hand, Phylicia Rashad’s understated take on the part of Frankie’s mother is very effective even though it’s a much smaller role.

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