Wes Is More! Pretension Pollutes the New York Film Festival

This movie literally knocks itself out trying to be humorous about dysfunctional sibling relationships, but only succeeds in being freaked-out and stupid. A lot of it is spent cutting down a tree, which falls on the wedding tent but unfortunately misses all the right people. Despite a few idiotic pseudo-philosophical one-liners about the differences between the sexes as a metaphor for the mental deficiency of 40-somethings in general, we never learn anything about what makes these insufferable bores tick. Ms. Kidman ends up throwing away her worldly belongings and chasing a bus on which her unlucky son escapes. Out of breath, she collapses inside the bus and gasps, “That was a lot of running,” as she fades to black. I was less disturbed by the fact that the movie has no ending than I was by the cockeyed presumption that any woman would leave her purse containing all of her money and credit cards on the side of a highway and never look back. Mr. Baumbach doesn’t realize it’s a thin line between eccentricity and mental retardation. It’s a puzzlement why, for a woman with so much beauty and talent, Nicole Kidman appears in so much junk. Maybe it’s something she picked up from Tom Cruise? Worst of all, she has been photographed in the style of an ugly home movie shot with a cellphone. As unforgivably rotten as Margot at the Wedding may be, there is no excuse for any movie to look like cat pee.

Dumping on Dylan

Saving the worst for last, I hardly know what to tell you about I’m Not There. Todd Haynes’ kaleidoscopic tribute to Bob Dylan is a torturous two hours and 15 minutes of psychedelic gibberish that reimagines the enigmatic, reclusive troubadour as six different people, including a black child and Cate Blanchett. It shows the loco lengths actors will go to in order to be in a movie. Riding the boxcars at age 11, he’s a black boy who calls himself Woody Guthrie. By the age of 20, he’s the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. In the 1960’s, he’s an evangelist called Pastor John (Christian Bale). Between the McCarthy era and Vietnam, he turns into a constantly touring, womanizing movie star named Robbie (Heath Ledger), lives in Greenwich Village with a French painter (Charlotte Gainsbourg), leads a protest movement as king of the beatnik coffee houses and loses his fans to rock ’n’ roll. As the movie snores its way through race riots and the Kennedy assassination, he turns into a troubled, sick, androgynous and dope-addicted rock icon called Jude (Ms. Blanchett, scarecrow-thin with fuzzy sideburns and inhaling streams of nicotine). Finally, in the worst and most preposterous of the vignettes, he is Billy the Kid, hunted down by Pat Garrett and a lynch mob in a western town where a kangaroo paces across the backdrop. Richard Gere looks totally confused and clueless as the outlaw, and I sympathized with him completely. Wandering in and out of the melee is a cast of 142 names, including Julianne Moore, Kris Kristofferson, Richie Havens, and Michelle Williams, playing characters based on Joan Baez, Edie Sedgwick, the Beatles, Malcolm X and Allen Ginsberg. Sometimes you don’t know who these people are, and at no time do you know what they are doing here in the first place. Oddly enough, in the most bizarre casting of the year, the stoned, mumbling, fagged-out, baggy-eyed Ms. Blanchett is the one who actually comes closest to resembling the real Bob Dylan. Putting the world on while hopeless journalists try vainly to pull something profound out of him, Dylan emerges from the truncated, disconnected episodes as something of a nut job, pretentious and boring. Your reaction will depend hugely on whether you see anything deep in Dylan’s music (I don’t) and whether you want to learn something—anything!—about the man you didn’t already know (you won’t). Instead, a tarantula crawls across the screen, Jesus writhes on the cross and a woman sets her head on fire.

I cannot believe this is the Todd Haynes who topped my ten-best list in 2002 with the magnificent, unforgettable Far From Heaven. Headed for the No. 1 spot on my ten-worst list, I’m Not There is a tumultuous disappointment. Chopped and shredded into shards of avant-garde impressionism, the film is without a thread of narrative coherence. It’s a 135-minute Cobb salad, what I call jerk-off filmmaking. It desperately needs cutting, and they should use a hatchet.