I’M STILL HERE (2010) review
October 17, 2010
produced by: Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix & Amanda White
directed by: Casey Affleck
rated R (for sexual material, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some drug use and crude content)
U.S. release dates: September 10, 2010 (limited) September 24, 2010 (VoD, XBox Live, and iTunes)
By the time I got around to seeing “I’m Still Here”, I didn’t have to wonder whether or not the film was real. Not too long after the release of this mockumentary focusing on actor Joaquin Phoenix’s retirement, career detour, and downward spiral, his brother-in-law/director Casey Affleck announced (apparently at the behest of Magnolia Pictures) that it was all a hoax. That came as no surprise to me, seeing as how I didn’t buy into any of it to begin with.
In late 2008, when Joaquin Phoenix made the announcement that he was retiring from acting and that “Two Lovers” would be his final film, not only did I not believe it but I didn’t care. There were rumblings online about how he was going to focus on his music and then it was reported in early 2009 that he had his first gig in Vegas. Then word spread that Affleck could be found in tow with a film crew, following an unkept, scraggily-bearded Phoenix and his new hip-hop career path. A small percentage saw his rap skills in person, while the whole world watched wherever footage was posted. No one took him seriously and, unsurprisingly, the media had a blast.
Then there was Phoenix’s now-famous appearance on David Letterman in early 2009, which was likely the world’s first exposure to his unkept mess. A bearded and seemingly incoherent Phoenix claimed before his suspicious and perturbed host that the movie he was promoting, the predominately well-received “Two Lovers”, would be his last film. I remember seeing that show and being as annoyed and mystified as most were. Since I now know it was all an act, maybe that appearance was a success and he did what he set out to do. Regardless, Phoenix fell flat for me and did nothing to warrant any interest in him. After all, he’s no Andy Kaufman.
“I’m Still Here” is supposed to document the events in between all those snippets from “Entertainment Tonight” and flesh out “the real story” behind all those internet rumors. It’s supposed to show us some kind of inner turmoil and personal trauma that the aspiring rapper went through. Throughout the film, a bloated, chain-smoking Phoenix is often seen whining about how distraught he is about life, as his entourage surround him, follow him, and enable him. He’s shown snorting coke off a prostitute’s breasts, someone he hired online (Affleck admits that was staged. Uh huh.). We also see him hounding P. Diddy for a record deal, puking after a failed Miami nightclub gig, and we’re shown “his friend” defecating on Phoenix’s face while he’s sleeping. Phoenix is pretty much awful and ungrateful to anyone around him and comes across as genuinely miserable.
We even see him get worked up over what people say about him online. He spends what seems like hours reading what people write about him and watching parodies of his current persona. He gets irate and blames everyone but himself. In a ridiculous tirade, he even states that “Revolutionary Road” received all the accolades that his “Reservation Road” should have. Um, really? Wow. How are we supposed to feel anything for someone who comes across as such a narcissist?
What’s worse than witnessing all this, is that no one really seems to care. Not his friends, his brother-in-law, and especially not me. So, let’s say this downward spiral/pre-midlife crisis was real, then the fact that no one shows any real concern for this guy is sadder than what we see on film. Who knows, maybe there were others who showed alarm at Phoenix’s behavior, but it didn’t make the final cut since Affleck’s goal here was….well, I don’t know what it was.
Whether or not this is fact or fiction, documentary or mockumentary, will be debated ad nauseum for some time. Does Affleck give any tells? Maybe. In the beginning of the film, he shows us old clips of the entire Phoenix clan dancing and singing for an audience. Then, we later see Phoenix making an appearance on a talk-show promoting “Walk the Line” where he states he’s never had any musical experience. Framed as such, we could believe that there is a set-up to prove he is clearly a liar or it could be a red herring to plant our suspicion from the get-go.
Some may say that this erratic and hostile performance of Phoenix’s only solidifies what a great actor he is. The best acting out of the film comes from Edward James Olmos and Sean Combs. Imagine that! I already knew that Phoenix had talent, so I didn’t need to be submitted to such an uncomfortable showcase. If the goal here was to simply discomfort, it has succeeded. It’s reported that both Phoenix and Affleck set out to make some kind of statement on how we view celebrity and what we accept as reality, or something like that. But, ultimately, the whole thing winds up being a completely unconvincing and unnecessary exercise in nothing.