Film Review – I’m Still Here

I'm Still Here

I’m Still Here catalogues a year in the life of actor Joaquin Phoenix, as he retires from acting to focus on his hip-hop career. Directed by his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, it’s a warts and all portrayal of a man trying to be true to his inner vision.

Of course, the main talking point – is it a hoax? Has Phoenix actually constructed this bearded, shambling, foul-mouthed aspirational rapper as just another character within his filmography?

To be honest, I’m not sure that it’s important, although either way I suspect it matters to Phoenix. (Affleck wins either way). All celeb documentaries that involve following a star around have an element of artifice about them to a lesser or greater degree. Just ask Madonna…

Whether a construct or his actual “real” personality, Phoenix comes across as a self-absorbed, childish, deluded individual. While much is made by his friends about his musicianship, his rapping is terrible, something presumably he can’t see because he’s rapping about his life and what’s important to him. Futhermore, his friends and employees actively encourage him, rather than say “hold on a minute mate, this is a bit rubbish”.

Then there is his dishevelled appearance, so different from the previously known “public” persona of immaculate suits and brooding good looks. It could be this is a very real sign of a depressive personality or just a really dedicated costume. It ties in with his “wild man” behaviours, having always seemed so restrained previously it’s seems a provcative act, daring to challenge perceptions.

This goes even further by cataloguing Phoenix’s cannabis and cocaine use and his hiring of prostitutes. Making this either an incredibly honest documentary (to the point of stupidity) or to accelerate the dislike of his character that the audience starts to have.

There are a couple of absolute key moments within the film, Sean “Puffy” Coombes listening to Phoenix’ CD is wonderful. Coombes is absolutlely deadpan as the tracks are played to him, no emotion whatsoever. If this is for real then kudos to him for his restraint and the gentle way he lets Phoenix know that he will not be producing the album.

The other moment works well whether this is a hoax or not. Phoenix has an appalling appearance on Letterman ostensibly to promote “Two Lovers”. Monosyllabic and chewing gum, he gives Letterman nothing to work with, so instead Letterman pokes gentle fun at the actor, to the delight of the studio audience. Afterwards Phoenix breaks down, “I’ve been so stupid, I’ve said I’d quit acting, and I can’t go back, my music’s shitty.. I’m a laughing stock. I’ve f***ed up”. Truth is, if this has been a hoax, then Phoenix’ “artistic integrity” can be called into question, he may well have realised, that by making such a public spectacle of himself, even falsely, may stop people ever taking him seriously again.

From there the film progressively gets more absurd, a friend/employee exacts a particularly nasty revenge after Phoenix verbally abuses him, a gig goes badly wrong when he can’t handle hecklers. The further you get into it, the more it feels that it has to be fictional, or that at the very least, the truth is being distorted in a grotesque fashion to create more of a buzz for the picture.

Affleck, very visible at the start of the movie retreats behind the camera. The film is shot relatively well, though the sound is awful in places. This may well have been a concious decision to highlight Phoenix’ mumbling, rambling state. A lot of the time the lyrics to his raps are unclear, but maybe that’s the point, as the only person they mean anything to is Phoenix himself.

At nearly 2 hours, it’s about 20 minutes too long, there’s definite indulgence here, which is a pity, as tighter editing would make it more accesible. It is incredibly funny in places, but the laughter is always at Phoenix’ expense rather than with him. Hoax or not, our perception of him will never be the same again.

I’m Still Here opens in the UK on September 17th.

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~ by moviegrrlreviews on September 15, 2010.

One Response to “Film Review – I’m Still Here”

  1. I can’t wait to see this!

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