Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Movie Review: I'm Still Here

I’m Still Here ***
Directed by:
Casey Affleck.
Written by: Casey Affleck & Joaquin Phoenix.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Himself), Antony Langdon (Anton), Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs (Himself), Casey Affleck (Himself), Ben Stiller (Himself).

Now that we know that I’m Still Here, the supposed documentary about Joaquin Phoenix’s collapse, is a fake, it is impossible to see the film in the same light as the critics who first saw it a month ago not knowing. Watching the film after the news came out, I would like to think that I would have known it wasn’t “real” – but I really cannot say for sure. Personally though, I am happy that this film isn’t real – because if it was, what a sad, tragic picture it would paint.

We all know the background of the film – which has now become infamous. Joaquin Phoenix announced that he was retiring from acting and wanted to start his second career as a hip hop artist. He gained weight, grew his hair out, grew a unibomber type beard, and seemed to slip into an excessive amount of drinking and drugging – all culminating in his appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, where he mumbled his way through an interview, appeared to have no idea what was going on and was essentially in his own little world. The Letterman appeareance figures prominently in this film – but it happens near the end of it. We see a hell of a lot more in this film than that.

Phoenix flies into rages at his staff – for not getting him a meeting with P. Diddy to discuss him producing his album (when the meeting finally does happen, it is hilarious), to being stuck in the back of a mini van, to having to score his own drugs and hookers. He is an egomaniac who one minute tells them he loves them, and then the next is flying off the handle. He seems lost in his own world of drug use – at times he mumbles so much that subtitles are needed to translate for him – and he does little else but party and record his album. That the album is horrible – that he seemingly has no talent for rap music – is something to which Phoenix – or JP as he calls himself – seems oblivious to. After the Letterman appearance – and a failed concert in Miami that degenerates quickly after one song to Phoenix fighting an audience member than heading off stage and throwing up – it sinks in that he has ruined his career – and he goes to see his father in Panama to try and recentre himself.

So now we know this is all a hoax – or more accurately it was a performance on behalf of Phoenix. It took balls on his part to do this – essentially making himself a laughing stock in Hollywood. It also took a hell of a lot of skill. Whether you think what Phoenix did was right or not – you have to admit that he was fully committed to the role – and yes, he does deliver a brilliant performance in this film – perhaps the best of his career. While he is acting every minute of this film, you never catch him doing it. He really does seem to be drugged out of his mind, totally egomaniacal and cruel, and oblivious to his lack of talent as a rapper. It truly is one of the best performances of the year.

But why? Why did Phoenix decides to make this film at all? To do this to himself and his career, which will probably recover because afterall, he still is one of the best actors of his generation? I think part of him relished the idea of playing this role in front of the whole world, not just on a movie set. But I think the greater reason behind the film is to show just how screwed up and obsessed with celebrity our society has become. And just how callous and cruel it is as well.

I don’t remember a single thing being said on TV during the time when everyone thought Joaquin Phoenix had slide into drug addiction that was at all supportive of him. Not a single person expressing concern for his well being – or his life, which is even more callous when you recall his brother Phoenix died of a drug overdose far too young. Instead, all anyone did was mock him mercilessly. People were downright cruel to Phoenix, as were their jokes. Here was a guy that everyone thought had a serious drug problem, was perhaps endangering his life, and all anyone did was mock him.

And it’s not like Phoenix is an isolated case – or that people were simply mocking him because they thought the whole thing was a hoax. When Britney Spears suffered a meltdown, and shaved her head, they mocked her mercilessly as well. It didn’t take long after Heath Ledger’s death for Family Guy to make jokes about it. No one did anything but mock Anna Nicole Smith from the time she entered the spotlight to the time she died – and then the media played it like it was some sort of national tragedy. Why did no one, anywhere, seem concerned about Joaquin Phoenix and his health? What would have happened had all of this been real, and he had died? Would the same people mocking him, all of sudden talk about it as a tragedy?

The film is also, I think, a portrait of celebrities who become full of themselves. We have all heard stories about celebrities and then insane demands, their insane egos – and Phoenix in this movie takes it to the extreme. If this was real, than Phoenix would have to be considered one of the biggest assholes on the planet.

All of this makes I’m Still Here a fascinating movie – and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance really does deserve Oscar consideration here, even if it isn’t a typical performance, because it is certainly one of the years more memorable, more inspired performances. Yet, I also have to say that discussing the film maybe more interesting than actually watching it. After Phoenix’s performance, and the questions the film raises, there really isn’t much else here. It is a fascinating movie – one that should be seen and discussed.

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