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Cast:Julie Taymor, Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush

After being attached to a number of actors, directors, and producers, this long-gestating biography of one of Mexico's most prominent, iconoclastic painters reaches the screen under the guiding hand of producer/star Salma Hayek. Hayek ages some 30 years onscreen as she charts Frida Kahlo's life from feisty schoolgirl to Diego Rivera prot‚g‚e to world-renowned artist in her own right. Frida details Kahlo's affluent upbringing in Mexico City, and her nurturing relationship with her traditional mother (Patricia Reyes Spindola) and philosophical father (Roger Rees). Having already suffered the crippling effects of polio, Kahlo sustains further injuries when a city bus accident nearly ends her life. But in her bed-ridden state, the young artist produces dozens upon dozens of pieces; when she recovers, she presents them to the legendary -- and legendarily temperamental -- Rivera (Alfred Molina), who takes her under his wing as an artist, a political revolutionary, and, inevitably, a lover. But their relationship is fraught with trouble, as the philandering Rivera traverses the globe painting murals, and Kahlo languishes in obscurity, longing to make her mark on her own. Frida was directed by Julie Taymor, whose Broadway production of The Lion King won her international acclaim. Michael Hastings The life of an uncompromising, iconoclastic artist has never seemed as rote and inevitable as it does in Julie Taymor's Frida, an intermittently engaging but wholly ordinary biography that wouldn't be out of place premiering on a basic-cable channel. Ticking off the events in Kahlo's life like a grade-school filmstrip, Frida's screenplay -- credited to no less than four writers, not including the purported rewrites from Ed Norton -- is full of clumsy passage-of-time indicators and halting, expository dialogue. Luckily, the performers manage to bring it alive somewhat: Though notably lacking in the kind of mythic swagger Kahlo requires, Salma Hayek digs into her long-gestating "role of a lifetime" with vigor. Better yet is Alfred Molina's Diego Rivera, who threatens to swallow the movie whole (both figuratively and literally). To her credit, Taymor attempts to infuse Frida with the kind of broad, expressionistic strokes she lent 2000's Titus -- the movie is nothing if not lush. Cinematographer Rodrigo Pietra renders Mexico as a paradise of reds, blues, and greens, playing up the contrasts between Kahlo's homeland and the steely, blue-gray New York sequences. But however brilliant they often are, Taymor's directorial flourishes are just that, and Frida -- which by all accounts could've been as daring as Vincent and Theo or Before Night Falls -- never rises above standard bio-pic fare. Michael Hastings

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