Justify My Netflix: I’m Not There

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don’t forget, all previous ‘Justify My Netflix’ reviews can be found on CCLaP’s main movie page.)
I'm Not There
Today’s movie: I’m Not There, 2007 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)
Why I added it to my queue: Because this is the latest by a filmmaking hero of mine, the exquisitely strange Todd Haynes, a controversial biopic of Bob Dylan in which half a dozen actors are employed to play the singer at different times in his life (including a black child and Cate Blanchett, who was nominated for an Oscar), and presenting those chapters not as real life but instead filtered through whatever “persona” that Dylan was typifying at the time.

The reality: Ugh. Now, let me make it clear that I’m a huge fan of Haynes, and that I don’t shy away from his work just because it’s sometimes challenging; his 1998 ode to glam rock, for example, the manytimes obtuse Velvet Goldmine, is one of my favorite films of all time, and I also have a soft spot in my heart for such early oddities as Safe and Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. But there’s something about I’m Not There that simply rubbed me the wrong way nearly from its very first minute: perhaps its insanely high degree of pretension, or perhaps the way it paints Dylan as some sort of mystical genius messiah figure, or perhaps Haynes’ unfortunate decision to start the film with the black-child trainhopping hobo persona, traveling the tracks with a boxcar full of cartoonishly shabby old men and spouting the most corpone dialogue this side of a cheap John Steinbeck ripoff, a whole section of the film that made me roll my eyes so bad I almost caused permanent damage to my vision. Whatever the case, I found the whole thing so ridiculously unwatchable that I simply turned the DVD off after twenty minutes, never even getting to the performance that earned Blanchett her Oscar nomination (or seeing comedian David Cross as Allen Ginsberg, which is also apparently great); and that’s a shame, because I suspect that the movie gets better as you get further into it, but just couldn’t force myself to sit through any more of the self-parodying artsy-fartsy messiness of the beginning to find out. Although it’s adored by some people (hint — you have a better chance of loving this insider-reference-filled movie if you’re already deeply familiar with Dylan’s life and work, which I’m not), I myself found it an intolerable trainwreck, and personally recommend avoiding it like the plague. You win some and you lose some when it comes to maverick directors with singular visions, I suppose.
Strangest piece of trivia: Cate Blanchett wore a sock down her pants during filming, so that in her words it would “help her walk like a man.”
Worth your time? No

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd