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I’m Not There (2007)

February 26, 2010

3/10 Identity Crises

An ambitious mess.

I’m Not There is about the life and times of Bob Dylan told through a series of inter-related vignettes that all depict various periods in his life that may or may not have actually happened. At least I think that’s what it’s about.

Honestly, it’s more like director Todd Haynes looked at the covers of Dylan’s first six albums, lit up a fucking bag of reefer, looked back at the album covers for much longer period of time, sat himself down at a keyboard and giggled, “This is gonna be soooooooooooooo good”. Come the next morning, he pulls his face off the keyboard with a deep craving for pork rinds, looks up at the script he’s written and says, “Screw it, I’m not re-writing that thing. Now let’s go film this bitch.”

Pretty sure that’s what happened. There can be no other explanation.

The thing about ambitious movies like this that are inspired by revered musicians and try to step out of the box instead of just making another biopic is that, more often than not, it doesn’t work out as planned and it’s just more fun to spend two hours listening to the music instead. I had the same problem with Across the Universe and I have the same problem here. Granted, you’re kinda screwed to begin with if you’re aiming to set a bar higher than the ones already set by Dylan or The Beatles, but something tells me Todd Haynes isn’t that stupid, even if he is using a different medium.

And going with that, the music is what saved this movie for me. If you’re not familiar with Dylan, this could potentially serve as a great introduction to the hits and the B-sides of one of history’s greatest musicians. But like I said, if you’re going into this because you want to be introduced to Dylan, you’re better off using those 12 bucks to download Blonde on Blonde off iTunes.

The acting’s also good, but the whole effing movie is just all over the place. It constantly jumps from story to story to story and not a single one of them has anything to say. I remember forcing myself to sit through this in the theater and thinking to myself quite early on, “What does this movie even have to do with Bob Dylan?” The end product actually feels more like a charade than anything else, like Haynes had six different short films written out that had nothing to do with Dylan, then just up and decided to have the main character of every story be Dylan, set the whole soundtrack to Dylan and turn it into some bastardized experimental celebration of Dylan even though it’s not about it him.

Might sound harsh, but with the exception of Cate Blanchett’s storyline, that’s the truth. And even though the acting’s good, it’s hard to see the performances for what they are when you’re not really sure what you’re watching to begin with.

Look, Bob Dylan’s life is a strange and mysterious one already, one that you don’t really need to take liberties with to make interesting. I appreciate I’m Not There‘s originality and its efforts to tap into what has always made Dylan such an appealing individual, but if I had my pick, I think I’d vote for a biopic. I hear Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home is supposed to be great, so that’s my suggestion (better title, too).

I’m Not There‘s not horrible, it’s just so far out there that it’s hard to even know what to make of it. I know a couple folks who have seen this and loved it, so maybe it’s just me, but I just didn’t get it. I am all ears on this one.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2010 10:55 am

    This sounds a bit weird alrite. Saw the trailer with the different actors playing Dylan and thought “this guys life is complicated enough as it is, why tell it in such an off the wall fashion???” Tell it straight and try and make sense of it is what id like to see in a film about Bob.

  2. Branden permalink
    February 26, 2010 3:28 pm

    I love Todd Haynes’ work, but this movie didn’t do it for me. I love the way that he told the story with different actors playing him, but I was not interested in the story. Why were Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale in this movie?

    I thought it was okay. Great concept, poorly executed.

  3. February 26, 2010 3:31 pm

    I couldn’t even make it through the film, BUT Blanchett got robbed for the Oscar that year. Swinton, while a good actress and decent in Michael Clayton, had nothing on this role.

    • mill1924 permalink
      February 27, 2010 1:04 am

      I don’t know about the last bit there. Blanchett was amazing in that role (and just about everything she does)… but Swinton in Clayton was pitch perfect.

      • February 28, 2010 1:12 pm

        Still haven’t seen Clayton, been meaning to for ages now. One of these days…

  4. Kevin permalink
    February 26, 2010 11:39 pm

    I’m with you on this one. Maybe not all the way to a 3 of 10, but it really was just all over the place and story never really went anywhere.

  5. February 28, 2010 12:27 pm

    I heard you have to be a die hard Dylan fan to even get this flick… some of the stuff is based of random lyrics in his songs. I like Dylan but am no afficianado… I skipped it!

    • February 28, 2010 1:09 pm

      Same here, I’ve got all the guy’s albums and I was still totally at a loss. Not missing much, man.

  6. March 30, 2010 3:22 pm

    Woooooooowzer. I thought this was the absolute perfect narrative for a Bob Dylan biopic. I would recommend “Masked & Anonymous” but since you have a bad taste in your mouth from “I’m Not There”, I wouldn’t recommend it.

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