I'm Still Here
Directed by: Casey Affleck Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Antony Langdon, Sean Combs Running Time: 1 hr 48 mins Rating: R Release Date: Sept 10, 2010
PLOT: A film that follows Academy Award-nominee Joaquin Phoenix as he decides to quit acting in hopes of starting a rap career.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you’ve ever asked in passing, “What the hell is Joaquin Phoenix thinking?”, hoping to get an answer, this movie will not be of any assistance. Instead, it will overwhelm you with approximately two more hours of confusion/questions.
Will the real Joaquin Phoenix please stand up?
The real Joaquin Phoenix is floating around somewhere in I'm Still Here, a “documentary” “about” his “life.” And as we can see from his totally bonkers nature, regardless of whether it’s authentic or not, Phoenix is not exactly all there at the same time. But before the film even delivers its Paper Heart-like twist at the end, one that offers even more brain pretzels than pretzel sticks, I’m Still Here loads up on the head-scratchers: “What is this man thinking?” “What are his actual intentions with any of these ambitions?” “Does this nut think this rap career is actually going to lead anywhere?” “Why won’t he cut his greasy hair?” “How did he get to be so f**ked up?” “What the hell am I watching?” “How does the camera have so much candid access to every event in Phoenix’s life?” “Who knows that this footage is for a documentary, and who doesn’t?” “Can you snort coke on camera like that?” For whatever it is, I'm Still Here rambles with the same chaotic slurred nature of one of Phoenix’s rap verses. (I apologize in advance that my confused comprehension will all sound just like this also). It aims to be as ambiguous as any serious piece of visual art, and it mostly succeeds. A condensed version would fit swimmingly with other questionable video presentations, the ones shown at hoity-toity modern art museums.
I'm Still Here is an ambitious work from first-time director Casey Affleck, who himself only makes a few appearances as Phoenix’s friend. With an exception of a handful of brief “interviews” with Phoenix’s friends, it’s the Joaquin Phoenix Freakshow. Affleck’s camera documents many moments of Phoenix’s deterioration, which range from excessive drug abuse to watching him throw away fleeting chances at possibly being loved again by a large audience. A large portion of the film is sobering with its imagery - the audience is dead silent as we watch the trainwreck occur, one car at a time. There are a handful of moments that can be funny to some extent, but it's usually at the expense of Phoenix's nuttiness. Any scene with Phoenix and a microphone provides a decent example.
For the very plain record, after having viewed this film and stewed about it (with various fellow head-scratchers) my gut and brain have concluded that this is a hoax. Where exactly reality ends and screenwriting begins, I am not sure – that’s a question for a long, long, long overdue interview with the real Joaquin Phoenix. Some of the events appear to echo cheap screenwriting - they are desperate for confrontation. Anytime that Phoenix can screw something up, he will do it. Anytime that his paranoia can cause drama within his tight friend circle, it occurs. At times Phoenix echoes the decisions of a movie character, and not of an actual person.
Adding to the hoax-hinting is the amount of access Phoenix "lets" Affleck and his camera have into his life. Not only is this "documentary" slim on interviews, but it's just a chronological collection of Phoenix's life over a long course of time. And it includes everything confrontational event possible. But then again, could we actually witness someone snort that much cocaine or smoke that much marijuana in a real documentary?
At the end, there are credits. Oh, those sneaky credits. There’s a lot of evidence in this usually overlooked section of text that indicates fiction. But at the same time, what if they are lies? Where is the rule in movie-world that says credits could not also be in on the joke, that they must offer the definitive truth that brings down the fantasy barrier of film and stand as the only piece of a movie that must always be true?
Has Joaquin Phoenix been fooling with us for almost two years? Sigh. The questions continue. Yet, the film still has the ability to be judged as an experience. While the long bouts of candid destruction provide a unique story of a celebrity crumbling, the film is too busy screwing with us to give any solid clues as to what themes it wants its audience to discuss afterward. And with the material that is offered about celebrity and image, not a whole bunch of it feels new. I'm Still Here's most significant statement is that perception does not equal image. It goes through drastic circumstances to prove this, and possibly even sacrifices a performance that defines dedication.
As for the inquiry that will bug audiences much more than any of the symbolism attempted in the movie - is this all real, or not? The movie is content appearing to be either way. It doesn't care as to whether a real person is vanishing into thin air on screen, or if that person is actually putting on a damn good tragedy as an actor. I'm Still Here just wants to exist.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10