A Review of I’m Still Here

Why fake it?

That is the one question I have about the entire enterprise. And yes, it is a fake. Casey Affleck came out and said so soon after the film was released. Besides, there are moments in the film that do seem too…perfect to have been real (especially the final scene). However, what the film has to say is important. It is about the self-destructive artist, someone who squanders their talent for drugs. Their minds have somehow found a way to eliminate the super-ego – they are nothing but reckless instinct.

Yet there have been many examples of real people doing this. Joaquin Phoenix was believed to be one by many (myself included after seeing that infamous Letterman interview) but now the film just seems like shallow exploitation.

Too bad…the film had the qualities of being a great film and an honest portrait about an artist slowly falling to pieces. Even as a work of straight fiction, it could have been interesting. But by failing to decide what it wants to do…well, it seems like all of Joaquin Phoenix’s public meltdowns really were all for nothing.

I am sure everyone knows the story. Joaquin Phoenix, around the time that his last film Two Lovers was released, announced he was going to quit acting to pursue a hip hop career. Not an entirely unprecedented move (Scarlett Johansson has an album out of her doing nothing but Tom Waits covers) but it was Phoenix’s public persona that gained a lot of attention. He could not complete interviews. He would get in fights with audience that came to see him perform. It is all documented here

First, the hip hop. Oh, the hip hop. I know now that Phoenix meant it all as a joke, but it is the sort of thing where you have to know the punchline in advance. It is embarrassing to listen to. The fact that Phoenix tried to get Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs to work on the album (watch his look of incredulity as he listens to some of Phoenix’s demos) is a miracle in and of itself.

But then, Phoenix probably knew that no one was going to go along with this. He meant for people to laugh at him (in the same way that Andy Kaufman wanted people to laugh at him) and the fact that he was able to maintain a straight face throughout all of these performances is a miracle in and of itself.

But that’s the problem with the venture. If only Phoenix and Affleck had been playing it straight, this would be a brilliant document of a famous man who thinks that further fame need only be asked for. How else would Phoenix think himself arrogant enough to contact Combs? He had already conquered acting – any sort of music should be the natural thing.

Every other scene plays like a typical Hollywood star on an ego trip. Phoenix badmouths his friends (to the point that one attempts to defecate on him after a particularly vicious argument) and does enough drugs to embarrass Hunter S Thompson. All the while, he views his behavior as perfectly normal (with the exception of a few moments of clarity) and becomes angry at those who ask him to stop.

The thing is, there are PLENTY of stars who have already undergone this. Anyone remember how Robert Downey Jr almost killed himself through heavy drug use before he resurrected his career? Even Joaquin’s older brother River met with a tragic end.

Why fake it? Especially something that was already close to home. And like I said, the problem is that the film is poorly made. It actually would be a very honest portrait of an artist self destructing. THAT would be a film worth seeing (and already, to a certain degree, exists in the Troy Duffy documentary Overnight). At the end of the day, trying to fake it feels far more dishonest than it should.

Maybe I am just complaining too much. But I really do feel cheated by the project. So much effort went into this. Phoenix and Affleck devoted a lot of time to it. On a certain level, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the both of them for undertaking this mad experiment. The problem is, they really didn’t need to do the experiment – at least, in the way that they did.

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