I'm Still Here (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

I’m Still Here (2010)

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Andrew INDIFFERENTThis is one of the moments where I don't exactly envy my position as a film critic who gets to review new DVD releases.  The Joaquin Phoenix/Casey Affleck Borat-esque performance art piece documentary I'm Still Here has been exposed as a fraud for about a month now.

In one sense, it's freeing because I can evaluate the film as a piece of entertainment and grasp at what points it's trying to make.  In another sense I have to view the film in an entirely separate light than how it was first presented to the viewing audience.  I know that all audiences are going to bring their own sets of expectations and desires to a specific film, but the whole project reeked of fakery from the beginning and now my own suspicions have been confirmed.

Am I happy about this?  Dear reader, I'm still scratching my head as to why this was made, let alone my feelings regarding the piece.  But the film exists, I have seen it as have many others, and the decision to reveal it as a hoax was made and received by a largely apathetic crowd.  With that context in mind, let's see how good the film actually is.

I'm Still Here documents approximately two years in the life of Joaquin Phoenix (or "Joaquin Phoenix" now), noted thespian known for his reserved intensity that has served him well in films like Gladiator and Walk the Line.  After the very well received romantic drama Two Lovers finished filming, "Joaquin" decided to give up the life of an actor and pursue the career of a hip-hop artist.  Really, this was given a lot more weight than it should have because he's not the first actor/comedian/sports star to pursue that very same path.  But it was Joaquin, so the press became obsessed with figuring out whether it was a hoax or not.

"Joaquin's" rap performances have the rhythmic timing of MC Karl Rove.

So we stumble along with "Joaquin", his assistant, and director/best friend Casey Affleck as "Joaquin" attempts to break into the world of hip-hop.  Along the way he receives sage advice from friends and professional partners from the worlds of music and acting.  They all give him good advice about what not to do to completely kill your career.  Like, for example, not doing a line of blow off of a call girls bare breasts - or allowing footage of your personal assistant relieving himself on your chest to make it into a feature film about your budding superstardom.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, or just another facet of existencedly; "Joaquin" does allow all of these things to happen and films them accordingly.

As a film, I'm Not There is a portrait of wretched excesses so carefully choreographed that it hardly feels real for a single second of it's running time.  Joaquin is quite good as "Joaquin", but the situations that he comes across (such as the fecal matter incident) are so over the top that it runs straight out of "so strange it's true" and into "Borat had a hand in this".  Worse still are the celebrity cameos, which in a film like this amounts to a supporting role of sorts, all pitched at varying degrees of believability.

For example, Ben Stiller shows up to try and get "Joaquin" a supporting role in his upcoming Noah Baumbach film Greenberg and is turned down by a very stoned "Joaquin".  Fine, but it never quite seems like Stiller is selling the moment and is instead using it as an opportunity to remind the potential audience for I'm Not There that Greenberg is a great film (which, incidentally, it is).  On the other end of the spectrum we have the near Operatic appearance of Edward James Olmos, who soliloquizes at great length about evaporating water and being the king of the mountain.  It's the kind of moment that grinds this potential documentary to a halt, shines blinding light on the artifice, and continues on praying that we didn't notice how fake the exchange was.

This is probably the only time in Puffy's life that he wishes he was listening to Shaq's album instead.

Worst off is Sean "Puffy" Combs who, bless him, doesn't seem to be in on the joke - and good for him.  He has the only genuine moment in the entire film when it seems to him like "Joaquin's" entire rap facade is a joke.  Not in the "ha ha" sense, but that he is just another guy trying to play out his super-stardom in a field of music that Puffy takes very seriously.  It really highlights what this film could have been in terms of examining celebrity and what worth they bring to various forms of art, musical and otherwise, by merely existing alongside them.  But, alas, we get many contemplative shots of "Joaquin" in his later phases as he realizes the mistakes he's made and goes swimming in the waterfall he loved visiting as a youth.

The only reason I don't hate this film because of the questions it brings up.  "Joaquin" is able to get away with his idiotic behavior because of his celebrity status, and would not have been taken seriously otherwise.  But the anger that the public saved for something like Borat did not come up against Joaquin for this film, partially because he is a well known superstar.  Did he avoid the wrath because he was playing "himself", because we all (directly or no) knew this was fake from the beginning, or are we more interested in anything that pushes our stars into oblivion?

All questions that I had during the films run time, but not entirely because of the film's intent, which appears to be just the hoax.  It's far too long given it's subject matter, and hinges itself on so many absurd situations that it's impossible to treat it as true.  I admire Phoenix's determination with the role, but it's a period of his life that he'll be regretting as the years tick on and he realizes that Greenberg could have been his.

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I'm Still Here (2010)

Directed by Casey Affleck.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix.

Posted by Andrew

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