Frida‘s lead casting, at least, feels exactly right. As pioneering Mexican painter Frida Kahlo — she of the Madonna-championed unibrow and faint black mustache (at least in many of her self-portraits, which deliberately exaggerated the whole hirsuteness thing) — Mexican-born Salma Hayek, a Best Actress Oscar nominee, radiates cultural authenticity, pansexual passion, and the borderline monomania peculiar to great artists.
But just about every other element of ”Frida” lets Hayek down. The narrative focuses not on Kahlo’s autobiographical folk-naive art but on her stormy marriage to a much-better-known artist in his day, Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). The decades-long squabbles of Kahlo and Rivera over his escalating infidelities apparently fascinated director Julie Taymor, the talented mind behind Broadway’s ”Lion King.” But the repetitious story line sags under the barrage of disjunctive, stop-the-action-cold visual flourishes, and at length the film plays like so much conventional-biopic crap, fatally hobbled by ludicrous cameos. Aussie Geoffrey Rush as Leon Trotsky? Baby-faced Edward Norton (Hayek’s offscreen beau and uncredited final collaborator on the paint-by-numbers screenplay) as hard-nosed capitalist Nelson Rockefeller?
They’re so unlike the men they impersonate that they come off as well-meaning, best-we-could-get volunteers in a cobbled-together tribute pageant. It’s only Hayek who brushes greatness here.