November 04, 2008 12:48pm EST
When Graham is ditched by her husband (Luke Wilson) she rents a clunker and heads to El Paso Texas discovering that not only her marriage but also her faith and sanity are at stake in this clever original comedy. Through Graham's odyssey the film explores issues of honor and promise while never getting preachy or pretentious. The script is funny yet never slapsticky. And though touching the films never falls prey to drippy sentimentality.
Always a bride's maid and never a bride (with knockout supporting turns in
"Boogie Nights" and "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me") Graham finally takes command in her first lead role. Her face is as expressive as it is beautiful as she gently glides from strong to comical to vulnerable. This surely won't be her last starring role. Casey Affleck comfortably fits as Graham's dopey but loyal brother who half-wittedly forgets that Jolene is his sister. When he gives her a sensual kiss she responds by reminding him "I'm married and I'm your sister." He replies "Oh yeah." Wilson restrains from playing the stray husband as a cartoon villain and gives us a cad who's hard to hate.
This was obviously a labor of love for writer/director Lisa Krueger and every bit of her passion shows onscreen. She gives the actors a spotlight to shine in paints a beautiful picture of the Texas desert and trusts the audience with her vivid characters. Krueger's graceful touch turns Jolene's warm naiveté into something refreshingly strong and hopeful.
Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) is a mischievous and sexually liberated student and aspiring painter in Mexico City when she first spies the much older prominent muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) cavorting with one of his models. Frida lives with her loving parents--Mexican mother German-Jewish father--and is intimately involved with her boyfriend. Tragedy strikes when Frida is gravely injured in a trolley crash and she never fully recovers. When her boyfriend takes off for Europe Kahlo focuses more on her paintings and boldly approaches Rivera for an honest appraisal of her work. Rivera well known for his marital infidelity and womanizing immediately recognizes Kahlo's talent and takes her under his wing as a protégée rather than a lover. An ardent Communist with a zest for socializing he introduces her to his artsy and progressive circles where Kahlo easily fits in. The pair soon become lovers and believing they have a special understanding of each other decide to marry. The union is immediately threatened when Kahlo learns that the hotheaded Lupe (Valeria Golino) one of Rivera's ex-wives occupies the apartment above theirs. After Rivera is awarded several commissions in the U.S. he and Kahlo begin their tour in New York and enjoy life as minor celebrities. Kahlo exercises her promiscuity by carrying on with one of Rivera's lovers and Rivera exercises his political intransigence with a fateful confrontation with Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton) who hired the artist to paint a mural in the Rockefeller Center lobby. The dust-up causes the loss of another commission and the couple returns to Mexico where they become hosts to fugitive Communist Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) and his wife. Kahlo has an affair with the legendary figure but when it threatens his marriage they move away and Trotsky is assassinated soon after. Rivera and Kahlo divorce but remarry when Rivera returns to his partner who is now impoverished and desperately ill.
The acting here is outstanding. Salma Hayek as the wild and quietly creative Kahlo is in practically every frame and dazzles in a variety of moods and situations. Alfred Molina in the more subtle role of Rivera is every bit as marvelous managing to charm and delight as a character who is essentially dissolute yet warm and lovable. Valeria Golino is another standout in the lesser role of the fiery Lupe. Geoffrey Rush makes a credible Trotsky and Ashley Judd pleases as a jovial Mexican party girl with a taste for mischief. Antonio Banderas does a neat cameo as a heated Communist and Edward Norton plays a very decent Rockefeller not shy about saying who pays the bills. Brits Roger Rees convincing as Kahlo's loving father and Saffron Burrows as Kahlo's loving diversion add heft to their supporting roles.
Julie Taymor best known for some very showy previous works like Broadway's The Lion King her feature debut Titus and a number of critically acclaimed operas proves again with Frida that she's an incomparable visual stylist. Taymor engages the eyes with a dazzling palette of Mexican colors and iconography and episodes of magical realism and mixed media invention that convey the intoxicating world of her subjects and the dramatic signature events of their lives. But Taymor (who also delivers a seductive majestic soundtrack) never loses sight of the fact that it is her beguiling characters who matter most.