"I'm Not There" and "Enchanted": In Love with Bob Dylan and Amy Adams
By Tim Grierson
Nov 26, 2007
Though they couldn’t be more different, I’m Not There and Enchanted both work better if you know and love the references folded into their narratives – respectively, Bob Dylan's legacy and Disney's animated movies. And the songs are really good in both.
I'm Not There (The Weinstein Company)
Safe is my favorite Todd Haynes movies because it's the only one that doesn't just work on a theoretical level. Velvet Goldmine was a "glam rock" movie and Far From Heaven was a "Douglas Sirk" movie – both required an extensive knowledge of the genres being referenced and kidded to appreciate and, even then, the perfect production values were more exciting than the actual stories. The production values are no less superb this time around – Haynes superbly recaptures several different eras in terms of clothing, film stock, and cinematic styles – but the crucial difference is that his Bob Dylan art film is totally captivating from the first frame.
Boldly pretentious, I’m Not There divides the Dylan persona into six characters, varying between very recognizable, literal interpretations and more amorphous, symbolic representations. Some are utterly brilliant, a couple are hit-and-miss. But unlike so many square rock-biopics where a life is embalmed in three tidy acts, I'm Not There doesn't try to tell us who Dylan is but it absolutely gets right what Dylan is about. Songs that had never done much for me are given fresh new life while others I’ve always loved find such a perfect visual complement that it's like hearing them again for the first time. (But, be warned: There is one truly terrible music-video moment where everything grinds to a halt for what seems like five minutes.)
Sort of like the Inland Empire of rock movies, I'm Not There is an amalgam of arty gestures, unsuccessful digressions, and thoroughly hypnotic filmmaking, and there will be those who will proudly announce that the emperor has no clothes about all of this. But the boldness of its execution is completely new after Haynes's overly-intellectual, non-Safe films. Yeah, it's pretentious, but Haynes is after something visceral about what Dylan's music means to people. I'm Not There won't be everyone's interpretation of Dylan's legacy. But it's one person's – and, warts and all, it's one hell of a vision.
Enchanted (Walt Disney Pictures)
I can't think of a recent movie that so loved its main star while the main star took all that affection with such modesty and charm. With this and Junebug, Amy Adams has cornered the market on sincerity and optimism – she's so lovable precisely because she doesn't for a second wink at the camera about her princess character's naiveté. The movie follows her lead, although when she's not on screen, we recognize that Enchanted isn't as charming as she is. A family movie that talks about divorce and hints at sex – not so the kids will really catch on, though – Enchanted still has two bathroom-humor jokes, as if to remind everyone that it's not above pandering to its audience. But the musical sequences are legitimately wonderful – and the thing's funny, spoofing the Disney conventions with good-natured affection. As for Amy Adams, she's so goddamn perfectly sweet that you hope and pray that she somehow becomes that rare young, talented actress who escapes stardom unscathed.
Margot at the Wedding (Paramount Vantage)
Noah Baumbach knows that the well-educated literate set are screwed-up – that's what The Squid and the Whale was for. He does it again, drawing on some of the same sexual frankness as Squid, but this time the results feel more mysterious, even to the filmmaker. Margot at the Wedding takes from Bergman – the isolated house by the water, the raging sisters – but its casual bitchiness is, uh, Baumbach-ian. And I liked how none of the characters were any one type, shifting from loving and decent to petty and vindictive without a lot of motivation. In other words, they act like family members who know each other much better than we outsiders do, and part of the pleasure of the film is trying to sift through clues to understand Margot and her sister Pauline. Jennifer Jason Leigh has the less-flashy role, but she's just as great as Nicole Kidman, who has finally made a movie worth watching after a few shaky years there. When Woody Allen tried to do Bergman, he sometimes got bogged down in symbolism and intellectual trappings – the movies felt wimpy and stillborn. This movie is mean and scary and violent and unpredictable – and I'm still not sure if I ever understood any of these characters all the way. Not that it impeded my enjoyment one iota.
3:10 to Yuma (Lionsgate)
Nobody expects much depth from James Mangold – he's a solid craftsman who makes dull films that nobody really remembers but have somehow earned two acting Oscars. He's done the biopic, he's done the thriller, he's done the woman's drama, he's done the precious indie art downer. So he turns his attention to the Western. And knocks it out of the park. Maybe it's the capital-letter obviousness of the film's themes – Manhood, The Nature Of Good And Evil. Maybe it's because he didn't have a thing to do with the screenplay. Whatever the explanation, Mangold has never produced a film so pungently entertaining and engrossing before. At first, I feared Russell Crowe was going to be too hammy as super-villain Ben Wade, but as the film went on, his calmly creepy confidence really got to me. And Christian Bale makes his character's wounded pride so valiant that, like his turn in Rescue Dawn, he becomes a hero simply because he doesn't want to be a hero. Two hours long but taut and locomotive regardless, 3:10 to Yuma builds and builds and builds, and even though it doesn't do a thing in an original way the whole movie worked me over completely. With award-season upon us, I've had to sit through a bunch of ambiguous, arty movies full of complexities and subtitles. Part of the reason I loved 3:10 To Yuma was just how unambiguous it was. It gets the job done and asks nothing in return.
American Gangster (Universal Pictures)
You put a lot of high-wattage names in front of and behind the camera, and what do you get? A film that will not be the favorite of any fan of any of those names. A well-made, elaborate tome, American Gangster is some sort of production-design, period-detail wet dream that strains for epic stature the way it strains to make its characters involving. Perhaps Ridley Scott, Steve Zaillian, Russell Crowe, and Denzel Washington think they're reinventing the crime saga by making it so desaturated that no one will find a minute of it exciting. Interesting, sure – especially if you're the type of nerd who rhapsodizes about costume design and cinematography. But sure not exciting. I can only wonder what Spike Lee could have done with this.
Redacted (Magnolia Pictures)
On a structural level, this Brian De Palma propaganda piece is brilliant. By reframing one of the larger human-rights atrocities of the Iraq War as a discussion on how we "see" the Iraq War itself – through YouTube videos and TV news programs and personal camcorders and surveillance cameras and terrorist websites – De Palma has constructed a Blair Witch-style media dissection that's absolutely ingenious. Pity that the story is one gigantic mess, filled with actors playing American soldiers with such gung-ho silliness that it's difficult to take the filmmaker's criticisms seriously. (He may not be "against the troops," but some of the stuff in here is so over-the-line that it certainly baits his critics.) All in all, an angry, provocative movie that's endlessly watchable – even if you're shaking your head through some of it.
Lust, Caution (Focus Features)
Getting an NC-17 rating won't just hurt your boxoffice, it'll distract viewers (and reviewers) into thinking that the sex is the point (or the draw) of your film. Before the kinky stuff happens, Ang Lee's period romantic drama is an exquisitely designed thriller – it's the sort of movie where you want to make love to the pretty clothes and the pretty production design and the pretty lighting as much as you want to with the pretty people walking around the frame. When the kinky stuff happens, it's great not just because it's surprisingly graphic but because it's character-defining – this older man and inexperienced younger woman are miserable apart and barely better together, and their sex demonstrates it better than the dialogue does. But Ang Lee has always had a bit of a soft side to him – The Ice Storm is still his best because he refrained from that impulse the most in that film – and it torpedoes the extended final section of Lust, Caution where the existential angst of the movie gives way to conventional hankie time. Not worth the snide backlash it faced when it first came out, the film is good but only just good.
Starting Out in the Evening (Roadside Attractions)
Although I don't dislike them as much as biopics – maybe because there aren't as many of them – the "dying distinguished older man" films are one genre I rarely enjoy. You always know how the story will play out, and even if it provides an older actor an opportunity to shine, the movie ends up feeling a bit more like a solo showcase than an actual complete film. To be sure, Starting Out in the Evening is tons better than Venus – there's none of that movie's cutesy insistence that the elderly are adorable little imps. Frank Langella and director Andrew Wagner look at this fading author's final decline with a distinctive, melancholy oddness – even if the outcome is rather obvious, we get there not quite like we imagine. But if the generic role of the young woman who relights his passion is also a little unpredictable, Lauren Ambrose doesn't do much to make her a worthy foil to Langella – he out-acts her by doing a lot less. The film conjures the image of a literary New York that's certainly seductive, but after a while, it's clear Starting Over won't get past the typical writer clichés of bitchy magazine editors and sober-minded artistes trying to hone their art. Interesting enough to keep you involved from moment to moment, and there are good performances throughout, but it doesn't add up to a lot.
In Between Days (Kino Home Video)
Sundance can't get enough of the multimedia artist-turned-filmmaker. But whereas Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know was aggressively smug, proud of how unlike "typical" cinema it was, So Young Kim's In Between Days feels part of a tradition and not above it all. Using only location sound and keeping dialogue to a minimum, it's close to a Dardenne film, specifically Rosetta, which I'm proud to stay I guessed before watching the DVD's accompanying interview with the filmmaker. But while both films feature a lonely, needy, slightly snarling female protagonist, the similarities end there. In Between Days doesn't build to much, but its portrait of an endless sadness touches on the typical indie-adolescence trope while being topical with its discussion of the immigrant experience. Occasionally the young girl's passive-aggressive melancholy is slap-her-around irritating, but the film’s limitations don’t outweigh its quiet rewards.
Hairspray (New Line Home Video)
It’s the old American musical problem writ large – dynamite first act, problematic second act. The songs jump out of the speakers, the choreography puts a smile on your face, and for a while the story’s knowing wink at the early-‘60s’ conservatism has its charms. But then comes tons of plot and tons of characters whose individual arcs all need to be resolved. Hairspray’s nods to the rising civil rights movement are commendable but they’re handled with such a glib let’s-put-on-a-show fizz that it’s mildly off-putting. Is the movie fun? Oh sure – so fun that you might be entertained to death.
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