Frida Kahlo, the Mexican surrealist, feminist icon, bon vivant and revolutionary populist, lived a life that has been begging for a film version since her death in 1954 (although her parting shot ' "I hope the end is joyful and I hope never to come back" ' might suggest otherwise). Since then her cool quotient and international stature have only increased, transforming her from the pained Mexican treasure she was in life into something wholly new and vibrant. Every decade or so it seems she rises, phoenix-like, from something less than obscurity and blazes a new trail through pop culture.
So the film is overdue, certainly, but it's also not quite what it should be. As directed by Julie Taymor, it's a competent and nicely designed biopic. Still, for all the director's attempts to link surrealist film imagery with Salma Hayek's depiction of Kahlo, it's generally lackluster.
The Kahlo story has been Hayek's personal baby for years, and she went to great lengths to secure the role for herself over equally Kahlo-cized competitors such as Madonna and J.Lo. Both Frida and Frida look like a million bucks. Hayek captures the look and flavor of the troubled artist; somewhere along the line, however, the film's depiction of her explosive spark went damp. For a film about one of the most passionate painters ever, Frida is a curiously uninvolving production.
It's certainly not for lack of trying on Taymor's part. Ever since I saw her Titus, it's become Standard Operating Procedure to screen that gloriously overwrought masterpiece for everyone I can get to sit still for the lengthy running time. Frida is chockablock with Taymor's trippy touches ' a sequence in which Kahlo and philandering husband Diego Rivera visit New York City depicts the bloated muralist as a cut-out King Kong, batting biplanes from atop the Empire State Building ' but it lacks the brain-blowing hyper-stylization of Titus and replaces that film's neo-fascist revisionism with cardboard Commies and Geoffrey Rush as a horndog Trotsky.
The acting is uniformly superb. Alfred Molina's Rivera is a hulking genius, and you can see why the slight, unibrowed Kahlo fell for this trundling wad of passion. And small scripting touches like the appearance of surrealist godhead Andre Breton and Edward Norton's cagey Nelson Rockefeller are neat little nods to the reality of the Kahlo/Rivera mythos. It's difficult to say, exactly, why Frida left me wanting for more, although with an artist whose wild ride through life (drink, perpetual physical agony and sex, sex, sex) was as comprehensive as Kahlo's, Taymor's film seems downright chaste. It has guts, but the viscera's gone missing.