That movie where Halle Berry plays a white supremacist
Cast: Halle Berry, Stellan Skarsgard, Phylicia Rashad
Premise: A woman’s childhood trauma causes her to develop a racist split personality (check out the trailer)
Remember when Halle Berry was gonna be the next Meryl Streep? This chick used to be in films like BAPS and The Flintstones, then went on to win a best actress Oscar for Monsters Ball. That must’ve been prophetic, since her filmography since then stinks as bad as…well y’know. Immediately after her Oscar win, she began showing up in big budget bombs like Die Another Day, Swordfish, Catwoman, and Gothika. What happened? I’m not sure honestly. I hate to play the race card, but things like last year’s Sony leak show that Hollywood is pretty rough on even it’s A-list black stars (DENZEL WASHINGTON wasn’t considered bankable according to a Sony exec). Being a black woman made her difficult to cast as a love interest for conservative Hollywood, and that’s the bread and butter for most actresses. Even her biggest financial success in X-Men has become a backhanded compliment as she was marginalized to the point of having her role in the third film basically be a cameo. With mainstream Hollywood having abandoned her, it make sense that Halle would begin to test the waters of Indie films with Frankie and Alice.
Despite NetFlix’s categorization of the film as a “thriller”, Frankie and Alice doesn’t attempt to titillate audiences with it’s depiction of multiple personality disorder. Halle’s character Frankie is shown to have very specific “triggers” that relate to past trauma; bright lights cue her remembering a significant car accident, hearing a song reminds her of her first love, etc. Frankie, while not the most stable character, is never presented as a one-note loon. We see how she tries to cope with mental illness and how she reconciles her gaps in memory. Rather than the character be given a single event that makes her go insane, the flashbacks show a series of events that each contribute to her MPD.
I’ll admit that I have a hard time commenting on Halle’s performance considering the nature of the character. I’m not well-versed in actual MPD. In the film’s context, Frankie’s creation of Alice is rooted in the harsh racism of her childhood in 1950’s Georgia. Being a poor servant to a wealthy white family means she internalized the highfalutin culture of the southern elite. Alice is Frankie’s interpretation of those people, meaning that she’s an affectation of an affectation. That makes the character pretty broad; insert every “southern belle” cliche you can think of and you pretty much nailed it. It’s not a great performance since it doesn’t really sell us on Alice as a person. Whether or not “not great” means average or bad depends on whether you think Alice should be a person or merely a character created by Frankie.
The film’s theme seems to be “personal synthesis”. It’s a pretty obvious theme for a film about multiple personalty disorder (just look at Identity). This is expanded with Skarsgard’s psychiatrist character, who’s subplot involves him dealing with a divorce. In a somewhat out of place scene, he’s calls his ex-wife to admit he’s always “been a different person around her” and wants to be the “whole person” she needed. IT’S KIND OF LIKE HE HAS MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES. Subtle. There’s also a commentary on synthesis in the family in regards to Frankie’s secretive family dynamic. She hides her job as a stripper and her general bohemian lifestyle from her mother which forces her to affect a different persona in her company as a nursing student who works for the telephone company. While this is as un-subtle as Skarsgard’s conversation with his wife, it does at least try to connect the audience with a story that many would find to unrelatable. Strangely, the film doesn’t overtly push the idea of racial integration. The film’s climax focuses on Frankie and her family, while only vaguely alluding to how integration of her psyche (like the races) will be a difficult lifelong journey.
Overall, this is an alright movie. While this isn’t the Oscar-worthy performance we expect from Berry, it’s clear she put in an effort on a difficult project.
My rating: One self-hating black thumb up
- A car accident plays a big role in the film, which might cut a bit close to home for Halle…
- While this film was given a limited release in 2010 in order to be considered for awards, it’s worldwide release wasn’t until 2014, which explains it’s obscurity.
- The explanation of how “Alice” could hate blacks despite being…well…black is that she’s actually incapable of seeing her own skin color. In other words: she’s Clayton Bigsby.