Frida (2002) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for sexuality/nudity and language
Running time: 123 min.
Cast: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Mia Maestro, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Julie Taymor
Screenplay: Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas
Review published November 26, 2002
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter in the first half of the 20th Century, known primarily for her sometimes unsettling images in her work, many of them featuring self-portraits. In her youth, she was more of a tomboy, not inclined to conformity, and when Diego Rivera comes to paint a mural for her school, she meets him and they later marry. Catastrophe struck when she was involved in a near fatal bus accident, shattering much of her leg, pelvis and even her collarbone. Unable to move much for a long period, she honed in on her painting skills out of sheer boredom, many of which was of herself, since it was all she would see most of the day. Her physical pain resulted in emotional and psychological pain as well, and the effects were seen in much of her work, many times longing for death and an end to the suffering, showcasing such subjects as the miscarriage of her baby and her tempestuous marriage.
FRIDA is a biopic which doesn't really tell you a great deal about Frida Kahlo's upbringing, probably due to the fact that she reportedly lied about it constantly. Instead, it mostly deals with the factual major events of her life, her bisexuality, her wrestling to deal with Diego's philandering, and the many famous people she knew. As a biography, the result is entertaining, mostly because Frida herself is an interesting character that merits studying, but also because of Julie Taymor's terrific visual style. This isn't a stuffy, analytical look at Kahlo, but one filled with exciting imagery and full of boisterous energy, just like the real Frida Kahlo was known to be like.
The two lead performers, Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina, are terrific, and I would be surprised if they aren't both nominated for Academy Awards for their respective roles as Frida and Diego. As fine as their performances are, if there is a downside to the film, it's the filling of the supporting roles with known actors that truly have no business in the roles they are in except that they are famous. The worst case is of Ashley Judd playing Italian Photographer, Tina Modotti, ineffectually performing the accent of an Italian woman trying to speak Spanish by not effectively hiding her drawl. Also, Geoffrey Rush is a fine actor in all other respects, but I could not buy him in the role of Communist Leon Trotsky, and in addition to his unconvincing Russian accent, he looks more like Colonel Sanders than he did the actual man. Although they aren't lead performers, they feel so out of place that I'm afraid that they actually harm the film somewhat, and FRIDA could have been a better film had they cast out of truthful nature than out of need for big-name stars.
However, FRIDA still remains a good film because we are able to maintain interest in the woman it depicts, and the always engaging direction. Although we never get a real feel for Frida inside her mind and heart, her story commands attention, and while many of the events of her life are tragic, FRIDA is a film that evokes a feeling of respect for Frida's spirit and talent as an artist. By the end of the film, we aren't necessarily inspired by her story or even moved much emotionally, but thankfully Taymor never does try to pull on your heartstrings. These are the events of Frida Kahlo's tumultuous life, warts and all, and for two hours you will be entertained and gain a sense of admiration for her work, but you never feel love or pity for the woman. Based on her depiction in the film, I think Frida would have wanted it that way.
©2002 Vince Leo