Will the real Bob Dylan please sit down? Dylan the man has always been less interesting than Dylan the series of clever inventions, and nobody knows this better than Todd Haynes, director of I'm Not There (rated R for language, some sexuality and nudity) and another fictional rock doc/biopic called Velvet Goldmine. It's not exactly a broad field, but Haynes is its inventor and its master. Here, he follows seven radically different characters played by six actors who vary in race, height, gender, and age, but are all somehow Bob Dylan.
The film is a little too "Inside Baseball" for most moviegoers, but if you're conversant in Dylanology or have a friend who is, much of the movie is great fun as a sort of extended game of trivial pursuit. Look, Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) looks just like Dylan on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan! Wait, that Richard Gere character is named after Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid! Lyrics from the songs are thrown into the dialogue; famous events and concerts are re-created with excruciating precision.
But is it a good film for the uninitiated? Sort of. The performances, especially Cate Blanchett's mid-'60s-era Jude Quinn character (from Dylan's "angry jerk" phase, when he produced some really wonderful music) are truly wonderful, and the clever structure never gets boring or inscrutable. It's not a movie for kids-the grownups swear constantly and there's one brief sex scene with some nudity, hence the R rating-but beyond that, there's a lot about the film that is left mysterious.
Are these characters the same people? Is Dylan's Christian conversion sincere, or another act? Is this guy a true visionary or just a fraud with a gift for self-invention? Haynes doesn't want to provide answers, but he explores those questions with a thorough and frank understanding of the flawed man and his many myths.