Review: Frida

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

Salma Hayek has made it no secret that constructing a film based upon the tumultuous life of famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is her dream, her ambition in film. It is certainly a credit to her that she was able to make her dream film at such a young age. As bipics go, however, Frida is certainly a disappointment. While always visually impressive, the information presented on Frida Kahlo is seldom interesting, and always superficial. For Salma Hayek, this is a step in the right direction, and her acting shows maturity if not true depth and range. However, Frida sinks in the end for one simple reason, its boring!

I will try to not make this an art history lesson, but to truly understand a critique of the movie Frida, one must know a little background information about the artist, and the information that the film presents. Frida begins in 1922, when Frida is a teenager, and ends some thirty years later. In her life, Frida Kahlo was married to one of Mexico’s most prolific artists, Diego Rivera, had some very shady political beliefs, was a bi-sexual, had a miscarriage, and almost died in a trolly accident. It was certainly an event life that Frida Kahlo lived, and the EVENTS are outlined very nicely in the film. I emphasized ‘events’ because Frida doesn’t adequately enter into a psyche of Frida Kahlo, which is certainly a must for a biopic. I am undecided at this point whether this is a strike against the script or the acting of Salma Hayek, yet Salma can take a breathe as I am leaning towards a deficiency in the script.

Speaking of history lessons, Frida feels just like one. I completely understand and appreciate that the purpose of a biopic is to teach us about the subject, yet a biopic must generate enthusiasm. However, Frida never does this as the film nearly failed to keep this audience member awake for the whole time. In the time that I spent watching Frida, I could have gone to the library, checked out a book on Frida Kahlo, and learned just as much as the film taught in less time. Which brings me to another point, Frida’s lengthy 119 minute running time is about 20 minutes too long for its own good. I can judge how well a movie was edited simply by gauging how frequently myself and other audience members fidget in their sits, and let’s just say the chairs were certainly creaking.

I certainly have some major reservations when it comes to the screenplay for Frida, so many in fact, that I am actually angry when I think back. My first, and by far biggest gripe was the vague detailing of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s political beliefs. When Frida and Diego take a political philosopher from Russia into their house who is seeking asylum whom they share political beliefs with, it would have been great to know what these beliefs were. We are not given any information on the subject, which is a constant irritant, at least for me. Secondly, if I want to see an on-again off-again relationship, I would turn on the latest “Friends” episode. Diego and Frida have such a tumultuous relationship, and it is so frequently the subject of the film, that I question whether or not this film rightly deserves to be classified as a biopic. Even though this rocky relationship was necessary to include in the film, the way it is presented makes the film feel like a soap opera.

Rich color schemes, wonderful costumes, and lavish sets adorn the screen in Frida, and make the movie interesting. For a movie about an artist, the sets and art direction certainly supports the theme. Its very hard to describe, but there are several montages, and several more frames in which a portrait of Frida Kahlo’s in shown, and then melts into a ‘real’ event from the movie. While I personally felt these to be a bit hooky, they were engaging and unique. Frida took home the award for Best Makeup at the Oscars on Sunday, and this was a given considering its competition was the critically bashed The Time Machine from last February. However, Frida never ages throughout the entire film! While the character of Diego aged, Frida didn’t age a day from 1922 to the late 40’s early 50’s. Just an observation.

This is Salma Hayek’s dream project, and in order for her not to appear selfish, it was imperative that she turn in a solid performance as the artist. That she does, and in the process, give us hope about her future doing real acting. (I don’t count Fools Rush In as real acting.) While the Academy has seen fit to garner her with an Oscar nomination for her performance, likely because Oscar likes to honor dream projects, I felt her performance was only solid and competent rather than superlative, and pales in comparison to the other four nominees, even Nicole Kidman’s overrated turn in The Hours. The strongest performance in the film is given by Alfred Molina who truly inhabits Diego Rivera. Sadly, the Academy did not nominate Molina, nevertheless anyone who sees Frida will agree in this categorization of the performances. Frida boasts a surprisingly well known supporting cast, including Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderes, Geoffrey Rush and Edward Norton. This may have been for the benefit of financial reasons, or at the request of Miramax, however, it gives the feeling of a meat parade, and does more harm to the film than good. Instead of focusing on the story (like that would be any better), we are pointing at the screen and saying things like “Isn’t that the guy Red Dragon?” or “Hey, isn’t that Antonio Banderes?! How cliched.”

The look of the film, and two solid performances save Frida from being an unmitigated disaster, but in the end, these two things alone couldn’t save this script. I had high hopes for Frida, I really did, I even find the work of Frida Kahlo fascinating, yet the film is Boring with a capitol B. Its with a heavy heart that I must only recommend Frida to those who are die hard fans of the artist, or those searching for a cure to insomnia.

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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