It must be something with the name Todd that motivates talented directors to make films that have the potential to be great, but then ruin them with complicated casting and an overly ambitious plot. First it was Todd Solondz (director of the wonderful Welcome to the Dollhouse) who cluttered Palindromes by employing eight different actors to play the same 13-year-old girl; now it's Todd Haynes who uses a very similar technique in the truly awful I'm Not There. Instead of a 13-year-old girl, the actors portray Bob Dylan, and this time around there are six actors instead of eight. One would think that two less actors would make the movie a little less jumbled. It didn't.
The reason I'm Not There is even more perplexing than Palindromes (which I didn't believe was possible) is that in addition to six actors emulating Bob Dylan, they each have different names and live in different eras. At least Palindromes was linear and each of the eight actors used the same name. In I'm Not There "Bob" is referred to as John, Jack, Jude, Woody, Arthur, and Billy. Confused? I certainly was! If you want to read the only two compelling reasons to watch this film
Undeniably the strongest part of this film is the music. Just like Across the Universe, the other film this year that featured a catalog of songs from a specific artist (in that case, The Beatles), the true standout is the vocal artistry of Bob Dylan. Although most of the songs included are a little more obscure (surprise), there are tried-and-true favorites like "All Along the Watchtower," and "Highway 61 Revisited." If you're a Dylan fan, take my recommendation and just buy the soundtrack. But, if you still want to see this film, there is one thing worth watching.
The one, and only, reason to actually go see this film is for the incredible work done by Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett, and Christian Bale — all of which is almost undone by the ridiculously ill-conceived Richard Gere as Billy the Kid/Bob Dylan. I honestly don't blame Gere for his lacking performance, he did the best he could with the cards he was dealt. The other actors, most notably Blanchett and Bale, have more realistic Dylans to portray, and each do so beautifully.
There are other things I could mention about the film: the political subtext (the film deals with the JFK's death, the civil rights movement, Vietnam), Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore's cameos, or Heath Ledger's nude scene, but I'm afraid this might entice you to see the film. And I'd rather you buy the soundtrack, if you must.
Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company