I’m Not There kind of depends on the fact that any straightforward Bob Dylan biopic wouldn’t live up to expectations, and director Todd Haynes has lovingly exploited that fact by making a film so deliberately obtuse that it’s hard to actually criticize.
Cate Blanchett, the sole woman out of six actors who play a form of Dylan, shines with versatility and character, as can be expected, but she also overshadows nearly all other actors in the film, and seems to get significantly more airtime (not that more Richard Gere is desired). The second best actor in the film is Marcus Carl Franklin, the kid who plays a 12-year-old black Woody Guthrie.
For any semi-knowledgeable Dylan fan, a lot of the film’s scenes will ring with familiarity. There are elements of Dylan’s imprecise autobiography Chronicles, Vol. 1, his bizarre film Masked and Anonymous, and the great Scorsese documentary No Direction Home. Haynes has recreated scenes from (seemingly) all of the above, to varying levels of success, but because some of the re-enactments are so similar to the real thing, some viewers may wish they were watching “No Direction Home” instead.
It’s a music film, too, and Dylan’s songs get plenty of play, including a lovely version of “Going to Acapulco” (among others) by Jim James and Calexico, in which the lip-synching is less noticeable than in other segments. There are plenty of comedic elements too, like a great scene with Blanchett, David Cross, and a statue of Christ.
I’m Not There is certainly meant to be entertainment, which might be easier than sitting through a four-hour Scorsese doc. In theory, Haynes’ film could lead potential fans toward something more concrete like “No Direction Home.” However, the two-hour I’m Not There sometimes drags, and audience members might wish they were being treated to something less playful.