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A Poor-Man's Version of Every Robin Williams in a Beard Film

By Brian Prisco | Film | December 2, 2010 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | December 2, 2010 |

If you’re gonna do crazy, you best do it right. Halle Berry tied on every fucking ribbon on this role in trying to garner Academy attention: racism, feminism, stripping, multiple personality disorders, traumatic births, and a period piece! The only thing she didn’t do is send decorative gift baskets to everyone who votes, but there’s still time. But it would be a futile effort, because there’s no amount of bath soaps and cookies on dowels that could save this ridiculously contrived and embarrassing mish-mash of a film. It’s a poor-man’s version of every Robin Williams in a Beard film. Halle Berry wanted to make this a showpiece for her acting talents, but what she ended up with was a plodding example of histrionics and shameful first-level improv class acting. When she breaks into the various personalities, it’s like watching fourth-graders do imitations: one’s a street-wise black stripper, the others an off-tone Scarlet O’Hara complete with Tennessee Williams stock-character accent, and the third is a small child with a lisp. Never once do you think you’re watching an actress infused with different people — you know you’re watching an actress infused with covetous dreams of statuettes. When the film finally tumbles into its awful contrived twist ending, you just feel sad for everyone involved.

Frankie (Halle Berry) grew up a poor black child in Georgia in 1957, the daughter of a housemaid for a rich white family. But now, in the 1970s, she’s living in Los Angeles, cage dancing for panty-craving perverts. She suffers from insane blackouts, where she is taken over by her other personality — a rich white debutante who doesn’t like being touched by black folks. Apparently, this gets triggered by anything remotely reminding her of the automobile accident trauma that she suffered back when she grew up a poor black child in Georgia in 1957 — bright lights, the song “Bye Bye Love,” hearing a horn, watching Gone With The Wind, seeing Levar Burton on Reading Rainbow. Anything.

She ends up getting hospitalized for mental illness, but by this time, she’s all back to sassy Frankie, and oooh, child, things are gonna get easier. Things are gonna get brighter. Enter Doctor Oz (Stellan Skarsgard) who’s seems just as confused to be in this film as the rest of us are to watch him. It’s a nice comedic kind of befuddled role for him, and he does the most with it. Unfortunately, he’s the Robin Williams Beard of the flick, with a quirky penchant for jazz music. Doctor Oz is a clinical psychiatrist, so he usually teaches classes, but that night it’s his job to check-in patients and he seems to determine that Frankie might just be harboring a few other personalities in that giant luscious 1970’s afro of hers. And so, against her wishes, and against the system that struggles to keep him down and prevent him from REACHING THIS GIRL he ends up treating her. Frankie doesn’t realize she’s got MPD. The doctor uses regressive hypnosis to try to unlock the personalities battling inside her. Inexplicably, this unlocks the young child, who’s a helper personality that the doctor dubs Genius. Apparently, each of the personalities has a distinct left or right hand dominance, blood pressure, IQ, and Genius even has bum-eyesight when the others can see fine. The white lady’s a snake, and only after over an hour do we discover that her name is Alice, even though you can figure that out from the title. And so the doctor fights to free Frankie who has to battle Alice for control of this poor black girl who grew up a poor black child in Georgia in 1957.

The biggest problem is that Halle Berry feels like she is so obviously pretending. I’ve seen plenty of insanity performances. Hell, there are a few ancillary lunatics in the asylum with her that are better than she is. It’s a Cuckoo’s Nest with a bum McMurphy. Berry is so contrived in every nuance of her performance. I realize it’s based on a real story, but for some reason it took over eight screenwriters to wedge this piece of garbage together. But only one director to completely blow it, Geoffrey Sax — he what brung us White Noise and Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. And while a lot of folks are going to come waving the injustice saber in the name of independent film — that’s a fucking load of horseshit. Berry bankrolled this sham of a flick solely to aim for gold. And she missed. She missed with every misbegotten quirk and Forrest Gump-vocal quality.

I wish Frankie and Alice was forgettable, but there’s so much bad going on, it’s like not rubbernecking a trainwreck. The ending is particularly atrocious, with a logic gap so vast you can screen a better movie in it on IMAX, relating to the origin of Alice. Whether this was due to the “Based on a True Story” nature of the flick, since they didn’t know they didn’t want to speculate lest they get sued, or simple laziness, you think one of the vast army of scribes on the picture would have caught on. But it doesn’t matter, because the entire arrogant process was cobbled together solely to win an award for an actress who already has one. And how dare they shield themselves among honest to God independent filmmakers who have to fight to get their films seen. I would have more respect if she made a sequel to Howard the Duck as a tax dodge than to have suffered through this baldfaced begging.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was admitted to a free screening of this film.

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