While I really enjoyed "I'm Still Here," the new documentary from actor Casey Affleck, which chronicles the so-called retirement of actor Joaquin Phoenix to pursue a hip-hop career, I'm also not really sure what I watched. Was it a documentary? A mockumentary? Was it a movie about an actor having a breakdown or was it a movie about an actor pretending to have a breakdown? Who knows? Because the true purpose of the film is such a mystery it is a bit difficult to put the movie in any context. If the content of the film is a hoax, unlike Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan" the audience is not let in on the joke. That being said, I found the film to be absolutely riveting and fascinating to watch, but then again so is a car crash.
The movie begins by re-introducing us to the Oscar nominated actor shortly before his announcement to retire from his profession. We are let into his inner-circle, which consists of the film's director Casey Affleck, a fellow Oscar nominated actor who happens to be Phoenix's brother-in-law, his assistant/friend Larry and his buddy Antony, who is the former lead singer of a punk band and is obsessed with constantly pulling out his penis. Once Phoenix announces his retirement to pursue a career in hip-hop the film becomes a cross-country journey to convince music-mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs to produce his album. Along the way the actor acts like a complete a-hole yelling at his friends, growing out his signature beard and unruly hair, snorting coke, smoking weed and banging hookers.
He completely embodies every stereotype of the spoiled artist. He complains when at a performance of a benefit play for the late Paul Newman, Affleck is given a better part than him. Phoenix claims that it is not fair that Affleck gets to act opposite Oscar winners Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson while he's stuck doing a scene with comedic actor Danny De Vito. He also expresses his jealousy towards Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. He completely confuses actor/director Ben Stiller when they meet to discuss Phoenix taking a part in "Greenberg" and the actor seems completely unaware of which role he is being offered. This is made worse when Phoenix starts bad mouthing the "Meet the Parents" movies right in front of Stiller but the actor/director would later have his revenge when he impersonated Phoenix at last year's Academy Awards. Another example of Phoenix's meltdown is when he is in Washington D.C. on the day of President Obama's inauguration in order to find Diddy and he will not leave his hotel room because he is out of pot. But the best is when he violently dismisses his buddy Antony after it is discovered that he has been selling stories about Phoenix to the press. Antony retaliates by defecating on the actor while he is sleeping.
The film's climax centers on Phoenix (or "J.P." as he refers to himself) and Diddy's eventual meeting, which does not go as well as "J.P." would have liked. This leads to his now famous disaster of an appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman," as it is revealed that he was doing drugs the night before his appearance, or at least that's how the film makes it seem. And that is really the problem with the movie, is what I'm seeing real? If it is you can't help but feel sorry for Phoenix. While he does act like an ass and brings most of this trouble down on himself, you really do feel sorry for him. He truly seems disappointed and hurt when Diddy rejects his music. While it seems almost improbable that the actor really loves hip-hop he certainly does seem genuine. You can also really feel the actor's pain after the Letterman debacle and perhaps that is the magic of the movie. If it is a fake, the actor certainly put on a believable performance and makes us feel sympathy for an otherwise unlikable character. If it is a hoax, the actor is certainly brave to portray himself in such an outrageous manner.
While the film is entertaining it is also quite pretentious and you do begin to grow tired of Phoenix's antics towards the end. If the movie is real it is pretty amazing that Phoenix and especially his lawyers and representatives would allow him to release it, which is partly why I think it might be a fake. But I don't know? I kind of want to drink the cool-aid and believe it might be on the up and up but it would certainly be more impressive if it were revealed to be an elaborate set-up. Phoenix has said in the press that the film is "not a joke" and he has also contradicted that statement by saying, "It's a put-on, I'm going to pretend to have a meltdown and change careers, and Casey is going to film it." So your guess is as good as mine. If Phoenix and his antics, or the dangers of celebrity interest you at all then this movie is a must-see for you. I would recommend that people see I'm Still Here and make up their own minds regarding the authenticity of the content. The ending of the film is a bit of a let down but the up and down ride that Affleck takes you on to get there is well worth the trip. Throughout the movie Phoenix complains that he does not want to become a "joke" or a parody of himself and unfortunately in the end, whether the film is real or fake, I think that is an outcome that the actor might just have to live with for sometime.