It's no mystery why Halle Berry would produce a film like Frankie & Alice for herself to star in.
The film offers the kind of tour de force role that won an Oscar for Joanne Woodward for The Three Faces of Eve back in 1957 and an Emmy for Sally Field in 1976 for Sybil (and forced people to consider her differently as an actress, at a time when she was known only for Gidget and The Flying Nun).
Apparently, the meaty roles aren't being offered to Berry, despite her Oscar and her obvious range. So she rustled up this one, sort of a prefab Sybil, allegedly based on a true story. It's got all the right ingredients - but it still has the formula feel to it, like the difference between a cake made from a mix and one made from scratch.
Berry plays Frankie, first glimpsed in the South of the late 1950s, the last days of the virulent Jim Crow policies. Then we jump to the film's present - the early 1970s in the San Francisco Bay Area. Frankie is now a popular exotic dancer (not a stripper, apparently, because she shows no skin) - more of a go-go dancer who teases without actually offering anything.
She's popular among the clientele (because, hey, she looks like Halle Berry) and with her coworkers, because she's a sassy, no-nonsense type with a sense of humor. But she has this problem: She keeps winding up in trouble with the police, for episodes of which she has no memory. Usually she wakes up in jail, unsure how she got there.
The episode we see leads to her racing into the street, dodging cars until she finally curls up in a fetal ball in the middle of the roadway. She wakes up in a mental hospital, where she comes to the attention of an empathetic shrink, Dr. Oswald (Stellan Skarsgard). He gradually begins to get a handle on her problem: that she suffers from a multiple-personality disorder.
Of course, it takes him some time to make that diagnosis - and he has to commit her to a psychiatric facility to get enough time with her to make any kind of breakthrough. What conflict there is has to do with the reluctance of his superiors, who don't believe Frankie is worth the costs she incurs being a patient of a publicly funded facility.
There's also the backstory, involving the young Frankie and her forbidden love affair back in the South. Her mother (Phylicia Rashad) refuses to acknowledge either the events of the past or Frankie's problems in the present.
Unfortunately, in this script by a squad of writers, there is little tension. It all seems like a showcase for Berry's talents. Even the supposed big shocker - that her dominant alter-ego, Alice, is a racist white woman - seems more like a gimmick than anything else, a device to give Berry some juicy scenes that feel more like acting exercises than a way to advance the drama.
Not that Berry isn't good. She is. But this material feels thin, like something you'd see on the Lifetime or WE networks. It's disease-of-the-week material, rather than a drama that seriously explores this particular corner of the human condition.
Yes, it was good enough to earn Berry a Golden Globe nomination (although who can trust those people?). But Frankie & Alice feels tired and recycled after the first 15 minutes - and doesn't get any better after that.