Frankie & Alive: A Review by Nate Hill

  

There needs to be more films about mental illness that treat the subject with the vital care and compassion that Frankie & Alice does. It should be re-titled ‘The Halle Berry and Stelllen Skarsgard Show’, because for just over 90 minutes the two of them give some of the bravest, challenging work of their career in telling this story. Granted, it takes a few liberties with what we know about multiple personality disorder and what still to this day lurks in the shadows of the vast human consciousness, but it’s in service to character and story and is never exploitative. This film was made in 2010 and mired in distribute hell for nearly four years before dropping off of a most unceremonious assembly line into weak marketing. No one I’ve asked has even heard about it, which is a shame because it’s Berry at her most shattering, sexy and charismatic, and it’s somewhat based on a true story as well. She plays Frankie here, a wayward exotic dancer prone to destructive episodes in which Alice, an alternative personality, takes over and wreaks havoc in her personal life. Alice is a racist, southern white girl and Frankie is a black stripper in 1970’s New York. You can imagine the predicament. She ends up in a psychiatric halfway house under the care of Dr. Oz (Stellen Skarsgard) a man who is not remotely familiar with the term ‘giving up’. He sees the issues with Frankie clear as day, where his shirt tucking colleagues (Matt Frewer and Brian Markinson) are skeptical and impatient with his process. Oz is trying to unlock the secrets of Franki’s mind through the knowledge of each alter personality, all of whom are related to a tragic incident in her past that we get brief, fractured glimpses of through the broken prism of her mind. Director Geoffrey Sax keeps the melodrama to an agreeable minimum and let’s his two leads feel their way through the work both through each other and the material. Berry and Skarsgard have never been better, setting one another alight with the kind of chemistry many lead pairs can only dream of. Berry writhes with fury, confusion and loneliness, her coherence a flower that begins to bloom when Oz shows her kindness and the desire to really help her, something which. O one has ever done for her before in life. Skarsgard is an interesting guy because he’s equally great at inhabiting cold, sociopathic villains (King Arthur, Ronin) and he’s also compassion manifest when he wants to be (Passion Of Mind, Powder Keg). The performance he gives here radiates with warmth and assurance, a lighthouse in the fog of Frankie’s illness. Newcomer Vanessa Morgan is also excellent as the 16 year old version of Frankie, caught in a hailstorm of racism and sadness that no doubt are the seeds for her future condition. I’d love to know more about the real story of Frankie, and see how it contrasts with the film. Even if the differences are great and the liberties taken are considerable, we are in the end left with a superbly made film that takes mental illness head on and is one step further in erasing the stigma. A film that’s woefully unseen, so,etching I hope this review will change.  

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