Movie review: 'I'm Still Here', hoax or real, a compelling look into Joaquin Phoenix's life
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Documentary?, Mockumentary?
Opens Friday, September 10th, 2010
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck
Directed by Casey Affleck
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
SPOILERS AHEAD - SPOILERS AHEAD!
View the "I'm Still Here" Trailer here.
It's hard to have any real emotional connection to "I'm Still Here", since we never quite know what it is we're watching. The film is a documentary on one of Hollywood's most promising actors, Joaquin Phoenix, who in 2008, abruptly announced his retirement from acting to pursue a hip-hop rapping career. Directed by Joaquin's brother-in-law Casey Affleck, the movie chronicles Joaquin's life from the time of his retirement to modern day. The problem is, many speculate that this movie is complete hoax, an elaborate fabrication meant to trick us into believing that what we are seeing is real. Is "I'm Still Here" a hoax? Is it a real documentary?
Amazingly, you leave the theater without any solid answers to those questions. If the movie is real, then it is a deeply disturbing character study of a brilliantly flawed individual. If the movie is a put-on, it is still a daring piece of entertainment. Either way, the movie is watchable, compelling, and worth seeing. The movie itself tackles the thought that entire thing is a hoax, and therein lies the strangeness in watching it: You never can quite care about Joaquin because you feel like a trick is being played, yet you don't want to laugh or not care because if it is real, it is deeply saddening to watch him lose control.
You must be Joaquin. Joaquin opens up completely to the camera, and we see a self-absorbed, reckless man spiraling downward. He is seen snorting cocaine, and doing other drugs, calling prostitutes, having sex with prostitutes. In a now famous David Letterman appearance during this time, he is so awkwardly weird that it is hard to even watch. He is surrounded by an entourage of people that enable this crazy lifestyle, and when he decides to go full-force into a hip-hop career (even tracking down P-Diddy to help launch him), there is barely a breath of resistance from his manager or those around him. In a brief scene with Ben Stiller, he insults the comedian bringing forth a funny exchange. It's the kind of cameo made famous on shows like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or "Entourage", where actors play whacky versions of themselves. But this time is it for real?
A disturbing trend in filmmaking. In an artistic way, "I'm Still Here" is near-brilliance in merging the genre of doc and mock - umentary. It is a well made documentary mixing scenes we know to be real with such over-the-topness that it can't possibly be real...right? Much like the brilliant film "Exit Through the Gift Shop" released earlier this year, it plays on our expectations. We see a shaky cam and we think documentary. But unlike Gift Shop, in "I'm Still Here" the joke is on us. What's the point of this film? I'm still here, thinking about that one.
Final Thoughts. Towards the beginning, Joaquin has a monologue with his back to the camera. He tells us that acting was killing him, because the process doesn't lend itself to free personal expression. You are who someone else tells you to be, they tell you how to look, what to wear, where to stand. The words that come out are not your own, but those from someone else. It is a suffocating experience.
Perhaps "I'm Still Here" is Joaquin and Casey's answer to that dilemma...A movie that allows them to do, say, and think what they want. Sadly, if this was all a hoax, the hoax has become reality, as the public perception of Joaquin Phoenix is irreversible. If it was real, you just feel sad for him and wonder if all of this was worth it in the end. An interesting movie, yes. But some of us may not appreciate playing the fool.
NOTE: Watch the end credits for some (definitive?) clues on whether or not the movie is "real."
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