I’m Still Here feels like an elaborate prank gone wrong. It’s a prank that nobody was really involved in, that nobody found funny and just sort of blew up in the faces of those involved. Those involved were Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck. The former made a bold decision to put his career and credibility at risk for reasons which still escape me.
The “documentary” is following Phoenix as he decides to give up a very good acting career and pursue a rap career instead. Seemingly disillusioned with Hollywood and the traditional idea of fame, Phoenix decides to express himself through rap music, even going as far as to attempt to recruit the producing help of P.Diddy.
That is about it. The film isn’t doing anything more than following Phoenix around as he goes from one disastrous gig, appearance, meeting or general interaction with another human being. It’s a movie tracking the self-destruction of a troubled actor – except Phoenix isn’t a troubled actor and is supposedly “acting” the whole time.
This would be fine were it not for the fact that what he is doing isn’t that interesting. Aside from the more public breakdowns, each tiny interaction, involving his entourage of close friends or him mumbling incoherently into a handheld camera, is just plain dull and has been done before. The fact that it involves Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t make it any more interesting.
The more interesting aspect is in fact the areas where the lines blur. There are times when it appears obvious the whole thing is a joke or elaborate prank but there are also times when you aren’t sure. You could put this down to acting or you could very well speculate that Casey Affleck may have caught something slightly more real on camera.
Reality does play a part throughout the movie, to a more saddening effect. Phoenix made this movie during the press and marketing for the movie he had just completed, Two Lovers. This means that he planned his self-destruction in very public forums, involving reporters, interviewers and the like who are not aware or in on the “joke.” This is most apparent on a talk show appearance with David Letterman, where Phoenix decided to destroy any marketing for his new movie by pretending to be an ignorant, obnoxious version of himself. Aside from Letterman, you also had to feel sorry for the people behind Two Lovers who were watching their movie go up in smoke due to some prank by these two Hollywood stars.
The part that makes the movie so much more confusing is that the “reveal” came after the fact. There is no disclaimer at the end, explaining the point or even a jokey “only kidding” as the end credits roll. Instead, what we are left with is a closing shot of Phoenix walking through a river to a sad piano tune. The fact that the pair were then telling people that it was all a joke afterwards makes you wonder how far they were initially going to take this idea – or how much a prank it was after all.
Overall, I’m Still Here feels like a self-indulgent, pointless “prank” that doesn’t prove anything. It fails to make any sort of commentary on fame, acting, music or anything else you could try to read into it. It has interesting aspects but these feel more by accident than design and if you add the fact that Phoenix and Affleck manage to damage or embarrass others as they go along, you do wonder what the whole point was, if there was one at all.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)