Julie Taymor's biography of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo connects the dots between art and anguish. The disparity lies in the fact that Frida settles for tickling a fancy where it should be packing a punch. Although involving and sprightly, it offers the kind of guilty pleasure a Fine Arts student might derive from a glossy cartoon strip.
It's left to Salma Hayek, as the bushy-browed, brush-wielding bandido, to show genuine guts. Her spirited portrayal breaks free of the clunky confines in a fitting nod to her fellow countrywoman. Frida spends much of her life trussed in a body-brace after a freak road accident. Cursed with interminable pain, she celebrates life in the only way she knows how: on canvas.
Like guacamole - heavy on the chilli - Frida is green but brash, seeking guidance from Mexican grandmaster Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). Suitably impressed, the skirt-chasing chieftain becomes Frida's mentor and lover. Here, the story takes another hard turn: Frida's passion for art is overtaken by her passion for Diego.
Together Hayek and Molina are sparky and seductive, and the unorthodox nature of their onscreen romance is compelling. However, Taymor builds Frida's identity around this one relationship, undermining the woman's unique genius. A veteran of Latin soap opera, it's testament to Hayek's aptitude that she's able to offer texture to the portrait, even as Taymor lathers it up. Painting the screen with psychedelic strokes in echoes of Frida's artistic style, Taymor's composition is nowhere near as bold. She effectively pastes a colourful character into a black-and-white love story.
While Frida is no masterpiece, it's nevertheless worth the price of admission to see Hayek master her craft. Her empathy for the character is intensely heartfelt and, as a result, fascinating to watch. Through Frida, Hayek finally proves she's more than just an oil painting.