It’s been 57 years since The Three Faces of Eve premiered in move theaters. One of the first cinematic portrayals of serious mental illness, the movie starred Joanne Woodward. She would end up winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance portraying three different personalities in one individual in the film.
Enter Halle Berry and her performance in Frankie and Alice. Although first released to very limited audience in 2010, it garnered Berry a Golden Globe nomination in 2011 for her lead role in the film. In it, she portrays Frankie, a go-go dancer in the 1970s who experiences blackouts she can’t explain.
Finally released more generally this past week, it’s an interesting and engaging addition to the film category of movies portraying multiple personalities.
This film is inspired by the true story of an African American go-go dancer named Frankie, who just happens to also have multiple personalities — what we now call dissociative identity disorder (DID). She has three personalities: Frankie, a strong, intelligent go-go dancer trying to make her way in the world. Genius, a seven-year-old little girl who has a genius IQ. And Alice, a Southern racist woman — who also just happens to be white too.
Through flashbacks entwined throughout the film, we learn that Frankie’s DID was perhaps triggered by something that happened to the white man she was seeing, “Mr. Pete.” He came from a family where interracial dating was not acceptable, so their relationship was verboten. While in the process of running away together, an automobile accident takes Mr. Pete’s life.
The breakthrough comes as too many Hollywood breakthroughs come in these kinds of films — through a hypnosis session with the quirky, inspired therapist (played well by Stellan Skarsgård).1
Berry’s performance is top-notch, and it’s easy to understand why she was nominated for a Golden Globe for it.
It’s as impressive as it is cliché-filled and over the top, with Berry consuming the movie whole. She gives her all to material that doesn’t deserve it but that she was clearly drawn to, given that she’s also one of the film’s producers. It’s evidence that the material that’s juiciest for performers doesn’t always turn out to be as rewarding for audiences.
While I agree the script doesn’t live up to Berry’s acting abilities, I think it’s a good effort to tell a story about an interesting character. The plot sticks to the Hollywood standard for such fare: you get introduced to the character, they fall on hard times, they meet someone who may be able to help them, they attain some progress, but then have some setbacks. Finally, they have a breakthrough.
I found the movie to be more easy to relate to than the dated “Three Faces of Eve,” set in a more modern treatment era. The therapist and other professionals are largely portrayed as caring individuals who want to help Berry’s character, who largely keep to ethical boundaries and legitimate treatment strategies (available to them at the time). Some allowances are to be made since it is a fictional story.
The ending, too, is satisfying in a way that leaves the viewer feel like they’ve gone on the journey with Berry’s character together. Although I couldn’t initially relate to the character, as the movie progressed I began to appreciate her more and more. By the time we reached the breakthrough scene, I was right there with her.
It’s a good film. I’m not sure why it has sat on the shelf for over three years, but if you’re interested in this kind of psychological fare, I would recommend seeing it.
- I won’t give away the full reason for the DID in case you want to go see the movie. [↩]