2002, R, 123 min. Directed by Julie Taymor. Starring Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton, Valeria Golino.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 8, 2002

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 has 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 Taymor, it's a competent and nicely designed biopic that for all of the director's attempts to link surrealist film imagery with Hayek's depiction of Kahlo somehow manages to be 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 the artist's 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. I missed her debut, Titus, when it played in theatres, but a friend forced me to watch the DVD and, since then, 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 bi-planes 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 -- 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 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 are here parlayed into the occasional glancing nude scene and angry epithet) was as comprehensive as Kahlo's, Taymor's film seems downright chaste. It has guts, but the viscera's gone missing.

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More Julie Taymor Films
Across the Universe
Julie Taymor takes the timelessness of the Beatles' music and yanks it earthward into a minefield of literalism.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Sept. 28, 2007

Taymor creates a spectacularly imaginative piece of Shakespearean cinema set in a world out of time.

Robert Faires, Feb. 11, 2000

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Frida, Julie Taymor, Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton, Valeria Golino

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