This is a biopic of musician Bob Dylan that takes us from his youth as a black child, to his early adulthood, his time as a woman, and his later years.
In this Dylan sort-of biopic it’s the actors that are a-changing, as he’s portrayed by six different people: Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett, each representing a different time in the singer’s life or aspect of his personality, it’s not really clear which. As misfire’s go, this decision is on a par with Cloud Atlas‘s casting the same actors in numerous different parts. But where Cloud Atlas left us trying to work out who each actor was in each time period, I’m Not There leaves us wondering which character in any given scene is supposed to be Bob Dylan.
It’s this which makes this film so unbearable. I have no problem in theory with a woman playing a male role, but Blanchett looks more like Ruby Wax than Bob Dylan, and when Dylan sings it’s obviously not her voice. Bale is probably the best Dylan, but even he sounds like Brad Pitt’s character in Inglourious Basterds, and has less than his fair share of screen time. It’s not that the performances are bad, it’s that they’re bad as Bob Dylan.
It’s strange that a film which is essentally an in-depth character study can give so little insight into the man himself, and this is purely because of the cack-handed approach employed. We’re left so confused by what’s going on, it’s impossible to get to know Dylan. Although there are different actors playing different aspects of the singer, they all seem to be the same brand of annoying, self-absorbed singer. I’m Not There achieves the remarkable feat of being reverential but also unflattering to its subject, as the Dylan brand the film’s makers clearly buy into comes across as vague pretentiousness.
I admit I may not be the best person to make sense of this film. The only Dylan songs I know are the ones on the soundtrack of The Watchmen. But requiring an in-depth knowledge of a person before you watch a film so you can fill in the gaping holes it leaves is a major failing. I knew nothing about Lenny Bruce before I watched Lenny, but it didn’t matter because it’s such a great film.
It looks and sounds nice, and certainly gets points for originality, but its distractingly pointless gimmickry and failures in the screenplay will leave you wishing you weren’t there.