Rating: R for some sexual content, language and drug use.
Frankie is an African-American woman who works as a go-go dancer in a strip club in 1973 Los Angeles. Alice is a Southern white racist who literally whistles “Dixie,” while Genius is a girl with an IQ to merit the nickname.
Frankie doesn’t know any of this at the story’s beginning when she describes how she makes it through the night dancing, in a cage, to “Let’s Get It On,” as men leer at her and flash big bills. It’s not until she runs into traffic and is found curled up on the pavement that she lands in a psychiatric hospital.
It’s there that she meets a psychiatrist, Dr. Oswald (Stellan Skarsgard), who doesn’t dismiss her as “a stripper from Watts probably coked out of her mind” as others do. Violent incidents spin Frankie back toward the therapist, but even he must figure out what triggered the fractured personalities and just who they are.
Ms. Berry, an Oscar winner for “Monster’s Ball,” changes personalities in front of our eyes, using posture, body language, accents, manner of speech, vocabulary, cigarettes and, when possible, clothing, hair and makeup to segue from one to the other.
She does an excellent job, but the screenplay — credited to a whopping six writers — unfolds like an R-rated version of a TV movie.
It relies on some cliched tricks, such as a radio song telegraphing what’s to come, and seems more interested in diagnosing Frankie’s illness and differentiating among the personalities than exploring family and societal dynamics feeding them. On-screen notes at the end update patient and doc but in a cursory, unsatisfying way.
How closely the movie hews to the real woman, I have no clue. But “Frankie & Alice,” a passion project for Ms. Berry, is being re-released years after it played the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, and the star was nominated for a Golden Globe, losing to Natalie Portman from “Black Swan” in January 2011.
In addition to the two leads, the cast includes Phylicia Rashad as Frankie’s mother and Chandra Wilson from “Grey’s Anatomy” as her often spiteful sister. They deserve more time than they get.
There is plenty to chew on here — do multiple personalities typically cross racial lines, how rudimentary or advanced was the 1970s treatment, and what else happened after a couple of pivotal, life-shattering moments. In the end, Ms. Berry and most of her co-stars are simply better than their material.
Opens today at AMC-Loews at the Waterfront.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.
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