Well, as usual, Halle Berry looked smashing at the most recent Academy Awards. Ostensibly, she was at the ceremony to participate in the salute to the James Bond franchise, per he role as “Jinx” in 2002’s Die Another Day. Of course, Berry also has a new movie, The Call, to promote. Berry’s latest looks like a routine “woman in jep” thriller. Well, I’m sure she’ll be happy if it’s a hit. [Update: Budgeted at a relatively modest 13 million, The Call opened in the no. 2 slot on the charts and went on to earn approximately 52 million, per Box Office Mojo.] Last year (2012), Berry earned good notices in the heavily hyped Cloud Atlas, in which she and other high profile–and Oscar winning–thesps such as Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, and Susan Sarandon, played multiple roles in a sweeping series of tales spanning all manners of time and space. For example, Berry played six characters, ranging from a 19th century “Native Woman,” to a pair of characters living hundreds of years in the future with a pit stop in the 1970s for good measure.
I didn’t see Cloud Atlas when it was released last fall. I was intrigued by the cast and the fact that it was a collaboration between the Wachowskis (Andy and Lana of The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). I was also excited by all the super makeup effects. Still, I hesitated for one reason or another, not the least of which was the time consideration. Unfortunately, the movie clocked in at roughly three hours (171 minutes), and while long movies are not necessarily a turn-off to me, I do find that I have less time to see a movie these days than I used to have, so I put it on the back burner until I could catch it at my local $1.00 theater, but then it just didn’t seem as urgent once other movies started opening closer to the holidays. Well, I guess Cloud Atlas belongs on my bucket list. I want to see Berry, and I want to see the work of makeup artists whose work was denied Oscar consideration.
Do you know what other Halle Berry movie holds a special place on my Movie Bucket List? Frankie and Alice. What’s that you say? Never heard of it? Maybe? Not sure? Let’s rewind. Back in the fall of 2010, the buzz was so strong for Natalie Portman’s intense performance in the creepy Black Swan that many Oscar prognosticators were ready to declare her the sure-fire Best Actress winner long before a single ballot had been marked. Then, word began building that Portman’s frontrunner status could very well be upset by the impending release of Berry’s Frankie and Alice, showcasing the actress in the flashy role of a woman with Multiple Personality Disorder. The twist being that one of Berry’s multiples is an old-timey Southern white woman who’s also a racist, ironic given that the famously bi-racial Berry has long identified as black. Interesting. Plus, of course, going back to the fall of 2010, many of us have been waiting for Berry to star in a worthy follow-up to her Oscar winning–and groundbreaking–turn in 2001’s Monster’s Ball. To be candid, of course, there was always the possibility that the excitement around Berry’s flick, while reported in the mainstream media, was an exaggeration generated by a publicist-for-hire. It would not be the first time a movie arrived with more manufactured than actual interest.
Still, as the 2010/11 awards derby loomed closer and closer, Berry started making the rounds of morning talk shows and more details about Frankie and Alice emerged: the character was described as an exotic dancer. Furthermore, Berry actually served as one of the film’s producers, and the project was based on a true story. As I recall, Berry explained that she had actually been in contact with the character’s real-life inspiration. I was actually briefly incapacitated for a spell that December, watching a lot of lightweight movies on basic cable (The Wedding Planner, Fool’s Gold, Raising Helen, etc.), and there were plenty of Frankie and Alice promos during commercial breaks. I was primed and ready to go–and then, as earlier speculated, Berry scored a Golden Globe nod for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama along with Portman, natch, Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine) ; however, despite all the early hoopla, Berry failed to place in the race for the SAG award, nor did she earn a spot on the final Oscar roll call. Worse, yes, worse, than Berry not being nominated for a second Oscar, is that in spite of my best efforts, I somehow missed Frankie and Alice when it finally opened in Dallas. Or did I? Well, that’s how it seemed at the time. Many movies that are positioned for Oscar consideration often open in New York and LA for qualifying runs in November and December but don’t make it into national release until January and February of the following year in order to capitalize on the glitz and glamour of awards season and much anticipated nominations–Maggie Smith’s well reviewed performance in Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet, is one such example. Even though a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Smith failed to materialize, the movie’s national release was timed with that eventuality (Oscar nods) in mind. At any rate, I looked and looked for Frankie and Alice in online and newspaper movie directories, but I never saw it listed.
[^ Reporters and critics for the likes of Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and Variety hailed Halle Berry’s performance in Frankie and Alice as “spellbinding” and “virtuoso,” so how is it that the film has not been seen since its brief Oscar qualifying run in 2010?]
Later, I resigned myself to catching Frankie and Alice on DVD, so I started searching for it on Amazon. Nothing. Nothing? Over the next few months, I checked and checked again. Nada. That was when I decided to do some more investigating. I went to Box Office Mojo, and I was surprised by what I found: apparently, Frankie and Alice was in theatres–a theatre–for exactly one week in December of 2010, earning a paltry $10, 670. Nope, I had not missed it. I had never really been given the chance to see it. My guess is that had Berry earned an Oscar nod, the movie would have gone into wider release in early 2011; since the nod never materialized, the plans were scrapped which is both unfortunate and short-sighted. After all, the movie had already been made, so why not make a concerted effort to recoup with or without a nod?
Worse, to this day, well over two years since Berry earned her Globe nod, Frankie and Alice is still not available on Amazon–or any other legitimate retailer. How is this possible? Granted, aside from Berry’s lauded performance, the film as a whole did not earn enthusiastic notices, but that’s almost beside the point. I spend a lot of time at my neighborhood movie rental outfit (often browsing…I don’t always have to buy, or even rent, a flick), and I’m constantly amazed by a lot of what I see: movie after movie that seems like one bad idea after another. I’m always surprised that many of these movies ever got the greenlight to go into production in the first place, let alone have a second life on home video. You know you’ve had the same thought as well. How is it that junk movies that most people have never heard of, let alone seen, rate higher on the interest-meter than a once heavily hyped film starring an Oscar winning actress? On the other hand, there are plenty of movies that did only fair-to-middling, or worse, business in theatres only to find their audiences at last once they become available on home video. Two somewhat recent examples would include Fight Club and Office Space. Why not Frankie and Alice?
Of course, I’m admittedly biased in this case too, and not just because I like Berry. I understand that playing a woman with multiple personalities, or “dissociative identity disorder,” runs the risk of being barely more than a gimmicky stunt as evidenced by way too many sub-par TV movies (Sally Field’s landmark Sybil notwithstanding), but I’ve also studied and written about the subject myself, and find it fascinating if done well. That’s the key: it has to be done well, yet even a reviewer in The Huffington Post at least admitted that while the movie’s script, cobbled together as it was by no less than seven writers, was pretty much a mess, the final effect was at certainy good enough to earn Berry her Golden Globe nomination–and that’s not nothing.
I’m not necessarily surprised that Frankie and Alice did not fare too well in its limited theatrical engagement, but I am surprised that “Freestyle,” which signed-on to release the film in the U.S. gave up on the film so quickly. That’s the part that is most discouraging. Berry’s fans are being deprived of seeing the actress in a role apparently custom-tailored to her particular talents; moreover, Frankie and Alice would appear to be more than a one woman show as the cast also includes the ever reliable Stellan Skarsgård along with the great–multiple award winning–actress Phylicia Rashad and popular Grey’s Anatomy scene stealer Chandra Wilson. Again, this is not nothing. I want to point the finger at someone, but I do not know whom that would be, and I wouldn’t know where to begin. What would I play? The race card? (Still?) The sexism card? (Really?) The ageist card? (Berry is over 40, always a risky age for an actress in Hollywood). All of the above? Maybe it’s just the typical Hollywood stupidity card. By the way, am I the only one that’s troubled by this?
Even though Frankie and Alice is not yet officially available on DVD, I have found a few offers for bootleg copies on the Internet, and that’s tricky. If the film were available through legitimate means, a bootleg would not even be a consideration for me. I think artists should be paid for their work, of course, and I understand how pirated copies and the like have a ripple effect throughout the business–hey, I pay attention to the noisy ads that pop up in theatres and on DVDs–so I tend not to consider any of that as an option; however, this seems like a special circumstance. On the other hand, from what I’ve read, these bootleg editions are of a miserably poor quality, so that’s another consideration. For now, Berry’s rumored tour de force remains on my Movie Bucket List…if it’s possible for a movie that’s technically unavailable to actually be on such a list. Btw: If it has ever been shown on television, I am unaware. I have a small glimmer of hope that The Call will be a success and reignite interest in Frankie and Alice.
If you have seen this movie or might know of its whereabouts, please contact me.
Thanks for your consideration…
 Ultimately, Portman duked it out at the Oscars against the like of Kidman, Lawrence, and Williams along with Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
The buzz begins in Entertainment Weekly:
Another “teaser” from EW: http://insidemovies.ew.com/2010/11/15/halle-berry-oscar-best-actress-frankie-alice/
Frankie and Alice at Box Office Mojo: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=frankiealice.htm
Huffington Post review by Marshall Fine: