The film focuses on the relationship between Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina)--a contentious one from the start. They first meet when Frida is in college and then again later after a terrible trolley accident severely handicaps her, and she seeks his opinion on her art--the only skill with which she can attempt to repay her family's debt. They marry, though he pledges only loyalty to Frida, not fidelity (his affairs are central to the story while hers are only casually alluded to), and embark on a whirlwind adventure that finds them debating left-wing politics with the influential artists of the time (played by Ashley Judd and Antonio Banderas), butting heads with Nelson Rockefeller Jr. (Edward Norton) when Diego refuses to erase a portrait of Lenin from a commissioned painting, divorcing, housing exiled political philosopher Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush), and remarrying in the last days of Frida's life.
What brings this story to life is Hayek's tour-de-force performance as Frida, a role the native Mexican was seemingly born to play. Hayek convincingly portrays the artist as a young girl and as a crippled middle-aged woman, and she eschews any diva-esque vanity to don Frida's signature unibrow.
But Frida's art also takes center stage. Frida's paintings tend to be portraits of herself and her family taken from specific moments in their lives. (Hayek's physical similarity to Frida is even more remarkable given that the artist's likeness is so recognizable.) In the film, the paintings literally come to life, brushstrokes slowly morphing into celluloid as the guests at Frida and Diego's wedding, for example, gradually move in to the frame of their wedding portrait. Or when Frida undergoes painful experimental surgery, she paints a picture of her spine in the metal contraption in which her bones literally crumble and tears flow from her eyes. Through stylistic touches like these, "Frida" is firmly rooted not only in cinema but in the art form through which Frida expressed herself. Starring Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, Edward Norton and Antonio Banderas. Directed by Julie Taymor. Written by Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas. Produced by Jay Polstein, Lizz Speed, Nancy Hardin, Lindsay Flickinger, Roberto Sneider, Sarah Green and Salma Hayek. A Miramax release. Biopic/Drama. Rated R for sexuality/nudity and language. Running time: 124 min