A maddeningly vague biography, Frida is all the worse for starting off with such narrative promise and visual pizzazz before degenerating into boring, episodic misery.
Salma Hayek portrays Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, whose strange journey on this planet makes for occasionally interesting cinema, at least on the surface. But director Julie Taymor is more interested in shouting out “Look at me! I’m a director!” than giving us insight into what inspired Kahlo’s paintings. Never stronger does this tendency rear its ugly head than when Taymor ridiculously envisions Diego Rivera, with whom Kahlo had a tumultuous marriage, as King Kong.
The film opens strangely and well in the patio of Kahlo’s Mexican home, as the artist’s bed is being removed from her home as she lies in it. Early reflections on her life provide the film’s strongest visuals and dramatic moments, namely a bus crash that painfully crippled Kahlo when she was a coy schoolgirl. Much like one of her paintings, it’s a fascinating combination of something bloody and something beautiful.
But the movie crumbles when it comes to the relationship between Kahlo and Diego Rivera (played here by Alfred Molina). Rivera’s penchant for infidelity is treated as little more than an opportunity to make him a comic buffoon. Although neither is allowed a truly honest moment, Hayek and Molina still are the film’s brightest spots, inhabiting their characters as best they can.
The film can’t even generate interesting thematic material out of their trip to America, preferring to chuck the couple around some sort of historical pinball. You can practically feel Taymor checking off the list as she hits plot points involving Nelson Rockefeller and Leon Trotsky.
Frida suggests that because we all have inner turmoil at some point, we should all connect with Kahlo because she had it, too. That might be, but Taymor never gives us that connecting point with Kahlo’s soul, instead painting the woman’s life as a highlight reel with very broad strokes.