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Frida
2002 - R - 118 Mins.
Director: Julie Taymor
Producer: Miramax Pictures
Written By: Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas
Starring: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Roger Rees, Geoffrey Rush, Valeria Golino
Review by: David Trier
   
A lot of films are extremely well done visions of dreadfully silly stories. This film stands out as a rather unimpressive vision based on a fascinating story.

When a 1922 bus accident leaves young Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) bed-ridden, her parents give her an easel and paint to pass the time. As it turns out, she has quite a talent. When she recovers her ability to walk (although limping in pain for the rest of her life), she demands the attention of then-famous artist and fat philandering communist, Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). Despite the barks from his ex-wife Lupe (Valeria Golino), Frida and Diego eventually marry. When Diego is commissioned to paint a mural for Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton), the couple takes America by storm. Diego continues to have repeated sexual flings while Frida subtly reveals herself to be a bi-sexual socialite. But as their marriage ultimately self-destructs and Frida's health worsens, they return to Mexico. During this period, Diego manages to convince her to play host to the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, which ignites a scandalous affair. Shortly before her body's merciful descent into death, her soulful artwork is finally shown and respected in Mexico.

Although Hayek is about as believable as a teenager as Russel Crowe was as a college student in A Beautiful Mind, her performance is, for the most part, quite moving. I recall thinking what a disaster this film would have been with any of Frida’s other contenders (Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz... Madonna?!) Also like Russel Crowe (and Cameron Diaz), Hayek uglies up pretty well, often making her quite believable as Frida, whom it otherwise might be easy to forget was a real person. Alfred Molina, who's now played every ethnicity from Persian through Anglo (one day I'm sure he'll play Mandela or Genghis Khan), delivers another bold performance, full of powerful emotional choices. His ability to make you sympathize with a man easily described as a pig deserves all the praise he's already gotten.

However, this character is one of the fundamental problems with the film, as evidenced by the film's title not being "Diego." It's quite possible that Frida Kahlo is turning in her grave at the thought of this film for a number of reasons. Most importantly, her story seems to be shown only as a function of Diego's story and less attention is paid to her fascinating and complex personality. In addition, her lesbian side, which must have been an integral part of her life, is portrayed as merely a circumstantial result of her husband's infidelity and warranted much more attention.

Director Julie Taymor seems to have missed the very point of Frida's artwork by simply not making the film dark enough. Frida's paintings are raw and sick, a function of her own torment, yet the film is pretty light and fluffy but for a few moments. The music is light and stringy, the lighting is generally sunny, and even the sets seem to make Mexico of the 1930s look like a happy place to live. This in particular strikes me as a glaring mistake. How can scenes with Diego and others analyzing the nature of oppression and revolution be taken seriously when nobody in Mexico looks particularly oppressed? Other inconsistencies include Frida struggling with a cane when she arrives at a party at which she dances a perfectly elegant waltz.

Although it would otherwise be box-office suicide, once again foreign characters must speak English with phony accents. This is frustrating because we know Frida's life story took place primarily in Spanish and to see people faking a Mexican accent (even Salma's seems unnaturally pronounced) is a bit distracting. Supporting roles are generally quite good, and littered with celebrity cameos, which is always fun. Roger Rees is excellent as Frida's father (with a German accent) and Valeria Golino is quite good as Diego's ex (although her actual Italian accent interferes with her Mexican one). Ironically, Ashley Judd has a small part as an Italian photographer and her accent is difficult to place too. And along these lines, Geoffrey Rush, who is always good anyway, has a rather distracting Russian accent.

But enough about that. The film lacks any sort of personal style or drive until about half way through where it does become generally powerful and involving. This is due to some great performances, creative special effects and authentically interesting source material. Frida Kahlo is certainly deserving of a biopic and this may be an honest attempt, but it falls short of greatness by not recognizing how much it had to offer with its title character alone.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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