I’m Still Here

19 Dec

Title: I’m Still Here
Casey Affleck
Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix
MPAA Rating:
R, sexual material, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some drug use and crude content
106 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

I just saw I’m Still Here today, mid-December, three months after it was admitted that the film was a hoax, and not really a true documentary portraying the crumbling down of Joaquin Phoenix’s life. I would have loved nothing more than to see this film without knowing it was all fake, to see it and be worried about Mr. Phoenix’s state of mind, to see if I believed it all to be true, to see if I would have been skeptical or to see if I would have considered it a sham all along.

But I don’t have that luxury, and I really can’t say what I would have thought of the film had I not known that Casey Affleck, Mr. Phoenix’s brother-in-law, had revealed the truth behind the film. I can only judge it as what I think it is now, and I think it is one of the riskiest and most daring fictional films done in quite some time. I mean, really, this is high-concept performance art, in which the players all devoted over a year of their lives into making a hoax, with Mr. Phoenix completely putting on hold a very well-respected career and risking it too, making people believe that he was in self-destruct mode, victim to drugs and case of an overbearing ego.

And considering it’s a hoax I guess I feel two things towards the film. One is that I’m a bit annoyed, mostly because we had to endure seeing Mr. Phoenix, a phenomenally gifted actor, being reduced to a punchline, seeing him try to become a rapper and failing miserably at it, then that infamous interview on Letterman happened, not to mention the fact that his supposed meltdown brought nothing but bad press to Two Lovers, his dubbed “last film”, which was actually a very good film that was overshadowed by the alleged troubles of its star.

And the other feeling the film brought in me was just sheer awe. Awe that this was done. Whether you hate or love this film, call it a hoax, a documentary, a commentary on celebrity or whatever you want, this is a film that works, because it had people talking, it had quite a lot of people falling for its sham, and that’s ultimately what it aimed to do. And I don’t really think I can grade I’m Still Here correctly know, I mean, the real grade would have been the one given if I didn’t knew it was fake, and I’m bummed that I didn’t get to see it without that knowledge, but I can still appreciate it for what it was.

But I don’t really think one’s opinion of this film would be ultimately based on if they thought it was real or not, because one can still appreciate it as a film about whatever it is about. Finding exactly what it is about is what’s daunting, it’s shot like a documentary, it features Mr. Phoenix in a performance that, if not real, then maybe autobiographical, or biographical of someone else, or fictional, or something else entirely. Even once we all know I’m Still Here is a hoax, questions remain, about its making and who was in on it, and mostly about why it was made in the first place.

Maybe that’s the problem I have with I’m Still Here, if it’s about Joaquin Phoenix I have some questions as to why it was made in the first place, if it’s instead one elaborate metaphor about the price of celebrity, then there are still some questions. This is a film that raises too many questions about itself and answers just a few of them.

But I still liked I’m Still Here, I liked it a fair bit. One reason for that is that, even though I hate the fact that Mr. Phoenix put his career on halt for over a year (not to mention that he hasn’t been officially attached to any new projects since), I respect how committed he and Mr. Affleck were to the project, and that level of commitment is commendable. And the other reason is that it was spellbinding. Seriously, you can’t take your eyes off this film, even if you know that everything going down is false, it’s still pretty captivating.

Again, my opinion is compromised by knowing that this is all a hoax, and thus not being able to fully experience I’m Still Here as it was intended to be, but this is still a riveting film, certainly a very bizarre one to watch unravel, but one that will capture your attention fully. Joaquin Phoenix is after all a very good actor, and here he’s good at playing whoever it is he’s playing, because by telling everyone that he was leaving movies and going to start a music career, the guy was giving a performance, one that lasted  over a year under as far as the public eye was concerned.

I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand what the intentions of Mr. Phoenix and Mr. Affleck were with this film, and I have my doubts about them knowing their own intentions themselves. But I will say that this is a very fascinating film, one that certainly looks and feels like a real account, and one that provides a handful of captivating looks into a very intimate and tormented life. And even though that was all a fabrication, it worked.

Grade: B


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