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Movie Review: I’m Not There

I’m Not There
Directed by Todd Haynes
Written by Haynes and Oren Moverman
Weinstein Company

I’ll tell all of you right up front that I’m not a big Bob Dylan fan.  Not because I’ve heard lots and lots of his music and decided, “Ehh…not for me,” but precisely because I haven’t heard much, and I only know a few of the more ubiquitous songs, and they weren’t enough for me to want to hear more.  I’ve heard Dylan on his XM show, and he’s an engaging DJ.  I realize that he is an enigmatic influence on music and culture as a whole.

First, we see a little black kid who calls himself Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), but this is supposed to be Dylan as a kid.  He wanders around from place to place, playing his music, hopping on trains and being a hobo.  Then we see the folk uprising led by Dylan as Jack Rollins (Christian Bale).  Later he’s actor Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), who is a no-good father and husband to wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).  Somewhere, in the movie’s most uninteresting conceit, he’s Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) in the Wild West. 

As “the poet” (Ben Whishaw), he’s the young, quietly brash Dylan just before superstardom.  And, in the movie’s most celebrated performance, Cate Blanchett plays Jude Quinn, who might be the Dylan we most identify with, who has trouble answering media questions, especially from one particular one played by Bruce Greenwood.

The movie skips around to each version in non-linear fashion, and ultimately what I got out of it was that Bob Dylan is a guy you can’t box into one tangible human being because he’s lived (and maybe was responsible for) many different eras of time and he’s a man that always has refused to classify himself like a bug in an entomoligist’s collection. 

The problem with this in a movie, for me, is that I already knew that and I’m not even a fan.  Haynes tries to deconstruct him into these classifications and he does it in an interesting way, but there’s nothing for me to cling to in all of this.  Blanchett, for good reason, is getting a lot of the praise here, and much of Dylan’s scatterbrained musings come from her (and are pretty darn funny), but Ledger’s performance and his story are perhaps the more compelling.  Unfortunately, it comprises maybe twenty minutes of screen time.   

So, take what you will out of my review of this film, because maybe I don’t get Dylan enough to truly appreciate it.  I love how director Todd Haynes has decided to go a different route with the biopic genre.  But storytelling is my ultimate wish that needs to be fulfilled, and this movie has a hard time doing that.  I get it, I get it…he’s not able to be boxed into one figure and it requires a range of different characters to explain, but man…it’s awfully hard to get wrapped up into a story and then have someone change the channel in the middle of it.

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