I’m Not There (2007) dir. Todd Haynes
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Wishaw
You may remember on first viewing I had an extremely bad reaction to this film (like a peanut allergy actually). I had much trouble penetrating the over-intellectualization of the man, which came off as just pretension. On second viewing I hoped to see the masterpiece which caused critics like Owen Gleiberman to call it the best movie of the year. I still see an esoteric mess, but I have come around slightly and can finally see its redeeming qualities.
As you probably know already, the film tries to encapsulate the many personalities or lives of Bob Dylan by intercutting 6 different actors playing him in various points of his career. The most engaging sub-story is Heath Ledger plot. Ledger’s Dylan, whose character name is Jack Rollins, is introduced via his wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsburg) as she discovers an affair Jack’s been having with the co-star of his recent film. Haynes then flashes back to the beginning of Claire and Jack’s love affair and charts the course of their destruction.
Though Cate Blanchett’s storyline were the showcase scenes (shot in glorious black and white, and featuring a Dylan-in-drag-Oscar-Nominated performance), the Ledger storyline works best because we get to see Dylan as a real person, suffering from the emotions of everyday life – but always under the pressure cooker stress of being a celebrity. Haynes is smart to begin the storyline knowing that their marriage will eventually fall apart, as this makes their wonderful courtship scenes seem so ironically tragic.
The Blanchett Dylan (aka Jude Quinn) for me is still an unnecessary piece of stunt-casting, and on second viewing her performance is still distracting from the character. The storyline is interesting. Quinn arrives in England for a tour and is chased around non-stop by the British paparazzi who see Quinn as the champion of the American 60’s protest scene. Quinn is aloof and unwilling to accept the crown and so the trip becomes a decent into a Fellini-esque hell of self-doubt fueled by drugs. The whole subplot plays out like “Fellini’s 8 ½” – the great Italian film which tells the story of a director put under a similar creative pressure to produce his next masterpiece. The dream sequences don’t flow as naturally with the material as Fellini’s film did, and so much of the action and events come across ‘art-house-pretentious’
Richard Gere’s and Marcus Carl Franklin’s storylines I could have done without, and Christian Bale’s scene were too small and short to make an impact. Ben Wishaw’s sporadic appearance talking directly to camera, has some wonderful moments, and only teases us with what he could have done in say, Cate Blanchett’s role???
Despite all my negativity I’m still glad Haynes pushed the film to the edges, instead of delivering another saccharine biopic like “Ray” or “Walk the Line”. It’s wild meandering film, which doesn’t provide a cohesive film experience, but at the very least the great career of Dylan is represented in a form which is as challenging as his music.
See my original review HERE: