Frida

Starring:
  • Salma's Attempt to Outham Halle Berry's Oscar Speech
  • Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd MAKING OUT
  • The Una-Brow

 

Directed by Disney's Lurid Presence in Times Square "No, Antonio! Don't do the little art film! You're TOO SEXY! TOO MACHO-MACHISMO! My clavicle begs you!"
I Don't Know Art, But I do Know What I Like...

Here's an advanced warning to all of you East-Coast cinephiles or art academics who are ready to shoot off an e-mail at me for anything I may misinterpret in my review of Frida, Julie Taymor's take on the wild and crazy life of famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo: I don't know anything about her or her work prior to the viewing of the film. I've seen her work in art history books and the like but I've never taken a class on famous Mexican painters and I've never pretended to have a versed sense of her visual themes. From what I could pick up during the two-hour span of the flick, Kahlo focused on alienation and pain through a series of surreal self-portraits. The paintings reveal a tortuous self-impression that is disturbing yet beautiful to the observer. It is to the film's company and to its lead actress Salma Hayek credit that this pain is properly conveyed through the telling of her life. The audience is given a tour of the happy family life turned upside down by a tragic accident only to grasp on to the hope of happiness and love with the flaw and demanding painter Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). We see the angst and the sadness channel itself from reality to the canvas. However, it is to the DIS-credit of Taymor that a good chunk of moments are so overextended and overdramatized that the emotions lose any weight to a total cinematic overload.

Hayek portrays Kahlo from the schoolyard days where Kahlo tempts young boys with sexual advances and peeps in on local artists while they have extracurricular activities with their assistants. One day, while venturing into town, the bus Kahlo is traveling on crashes and leaves her injured. This is a very important event it turns out for two reasons: (1) It leaves Kahlo crippled for life and (2) Her recovery period is when she begins to do extensive painting. We, as the audience, understand that this will be a significant scene because there would be no other reason to show it so early in the film. But here's a preliminary, and quite telling, example of how the director injects too much "style" into a scene to achieve directorial distrust. The bus begins to skid and everything goes into slo-motion. Everyone gets the "Ohmaga" look on their face as all sound evaporates and the camera circles the passengers on the boss. There have been films that portray Armageddon with less intensity. And, in case we don't foresee the importance of this moment, Taymor has an extra on the bus holding a CAGED BIRD. Of course, one could only guess that the BIRD IS RELEASED FROM THE CAGE upon impact. You know, in case we don't get that this moment will also release Kahlo's artistic ability. Or something. Cut to black and then we go to an operating room that is filled with stop-animation visual's from Kahlo's later work performing surgery on her. Is this out of place and showy? Of course, but Taymor must have thought that this was going to be a real kick for the audience to believe that Kahlo envisioned all of this in some life-and-death netherworld. (Although it must have been disconcerting in the editing room when the scene played like the Sandworm attacks from Beetle Juice.) To top this off, the first thing Kahlo does is draw BUTTERFLIES on her full-body cast! Oh, will she too break away from this cocoon and become an object of flying beauty? Let's hope so or this will be as boring as Misery without Kathy Bates.

At this point, I was ready to endure no more. I wanted to take my pint of Wheat State Golden beer back to the concession stand and go watch Bond again. But I stayed and I'm glad because I was able to take so much from the characters and the performances. Kahlo ends up working under and sleeping with Rivera. They get married despite her need for freedom and his need to be amorous with his admirers. They promise to not be faithful, but only "loyal." As she begins to perfect her art, he whisks them away to New York City where the gringos seem to get a kick out Rivera's revolutionary paintings and politics. Why, we even get a reenactment of the Rivera-Nelson Rockefeller (Hayek boy-toy and former actor Ed Norton) battle over the Communist mural so nicely portrayed in Tim Robbins' 1999 Cradle Will Rock. These moments that focused on Rivera seemed as though they belonged in another movie, and that's not just because they WERE in another movie for so long. I understand that the film was trying to show how emotionally upsetting and abusive Rivera acted towards Kahlo. But it seems to hijack the film. Hayek's Kahlo prevents this. Instead of doing a pity the poor victim charade, Hayek and Molina do a nice balancing act with their performances. We see the intensity and the passion of Rivera but we also see his boorishness and his uncaring demeanor. We see the pain felt by Kahlo but we also see her rage towards Rivera as hypocrisy. She, too, has taken advantage of a free lifestyle, getting it on with everyone from Leon Trotsky (A barely recognizable Geoffrey Rush) to Josephine Baker. (Admittedly, that latter scene had a nice touch of Mulholland Drive stimulation.) She is called out for this behavior, and rightfully so. It only adds to perpetrating her self-loathing and pain. To me, this is the best thing about Frida. It shows where the emotions that appear in the work come from and does so in a way that actually connects. My biggest gripe with Pollack, the last significant and "critically lauded" art biopic, was that we got this booze and womanizing tour of his life but never understood where those cubes came from. Here, when we see the self-portrait pierced and mangled, it is obvious and devastating. No small accomplishment for a film. And frankly, no small accomplishment for Hayek either. Many scoffed when this version carried on as projects developed for Madonna and Jennifer Lopez in charge floundered. But Hayek delivers a quiet and fairly reserved performance that would be overheard of from Evita. (Lopez might have been able to have pulled it off, but Hayek doesn't have the superstar aura that could possibly distract.) Most of her performance is developed through silent facial expressions and this is particularly impressive when she had to wear that una-brow the whole time. If she gets nominated, it will be well-deserved.

It's just too bad that Taymor had to make her impression on the film so bold. As an artist, Kahlo speaks volumes. And the production designer of the film was smart to design that sets in the dark blues and purples that were so prominent in her paintings. But time and time again, Taymor would have to inject some "clever" piece of set work that seemed to say, "Hey, did you know I directed The Lion King on Broadway. I am ARTSY" The bus crash and the surgery and the butterflies were bad enough. Do we need the slo-mo lesbian sex? Okay, maybe we needed the slo-mo lesbian sex. But some of the more "shocking" personal revelations at the end were so overdone that I started watching for camera tricks as opposed to caring about what was happening. It's too bad that Taymor didn't trust her great cast and just let them be. Hayek's great, Molina's great, Rush is great. Hell: Norton, Antonio, and even Ashley Judd do some pretty good stuff in their lingering moments. For a film about the pain of the artist, Taymor seems more interested in creating pain for the audience.

 

 

 

The Pitch:
2 Pollock
Plus
 
1 Madonna
Equals
 
3 Frida
See It For:
Ashley checking out the Brow and Salma worried that Ashley's neckbone is going to pop out.