A review of “I'm Not There” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, nudity, and drug use

Run Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

 

 

The life and times of poet and prophet Bob Dylan like you’ve never seen it before.

How to deconstruct a shape-shifting homage to the man behind the music? A plethora of actors and identities own a piece of Dylan in a rag-tag pastiche of genius, wit and irony.

As ambassador of Dylan’s youthful dreams 11-year old African American troubadour Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) train-hops across the country spinning tall tales of melodious glory. Dylan’s early success manifests itself in the character of folksinger extraordinaire Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) who skyrockets to fame by creating homespun music of the working man’s conscience.

Heath Ledger’s Robbie is a New York actor playing Rollins in a counter-culture biography of the absentee sensation. The film’s most startling bit is the persona of Jude, played by Cate Blanchett as Dylan’s nihilistic, drugged-out self who suffers the hardcore onslaught of fame’s ghostly underbelly.

In full retreat from a world gone wild is Billy (Richard Gere), shedding a celebrated past by living in virtual exile in podunks-ville Missouri. All of the above cut with scenes of a renegade poet cum narrator (Ben Winshaw) in the midst of interrogation by an unspecified government commission.

Performances are key when dealing with a live enigmatic subject. Standouts Blanchett and Bale embrace the idiosyncrasies of their characters above and beyond the call of duty. Best of show: Bale belting gospel with a mammoth afro and sans-a-belt leisure suit circa 1970s.

Dylan’s women get their day in the sun too: Julianne Moore as Jack’s duet in life and on stage, Charlotte Gainsbourg as Robbie’s disillusioned, spouse (mirroring the turbulence of the Vietnam War) and Michelle Williams as Jude’s petulant underground ingénue.

There’s narrative confusion aplenty and a too-long running time, not to mention transitional issues and an oblique reality. But once into its rhythm “There” is a satisfying oddity, an abstract tone poem that can’t be denied its hip vibe and soulful labors.

Writer/director Todd Haynes, a self-described Dylan junkie, infuses every frame with fanatical passion and a sly knowledge of Dylan’s metamorphoses and inscrutable mythology. The times they are a-changin’.