Regardless of documentary or mockumentary status, I’m Still Here tests how far a filmmaker’s audience will let itself be manipulated. This may be a cautionary tale for writers wading in experimental waters or taking their work too far out of bounds … or an open-door, saying that if you have the means, you can try anything …

If you’re a big fan of Joaquin Phoenix—and want to remain one—you may want to skip I’m Still Here, the film billed as a documentary about Phoenix that’s directed by actor Casey Affleck, who also is Phoenix’s brother-in-law.

After making Two Lovers with Gwyneth Paltrow, Phoenix announced he was quitting acting to become a rapper. From there, Phoenix made a much-talked-about appearance—due to the high weirdness level—on the Late Show with David Letterman. In this guest spot, Phoenix was taciturn and assumed a look similar to that of John Belushi in The Blues Brothers—that, or Taliban Man in a suit, or a modern-day Rasputin—and inhabited it for all of I’m Still Here.

While it’s interesting in composition and there are several really quite funny moments, the 106 minutes of I’m Still Here are more often than not painful to watch. Phoenix berates people close to him, displays what comes across as a severe case of arrested development and generally just seems daft. There is male frontal nudity (not Phoenix) that’s just odd in its occurrence, and other juvenile displays of scatology, drugs, and prostitution.

Phoenix is a current-era Commodus (his Gladiator character). This is a Phoenix you want to hook up with a good yoga teacher, fitness instructor, spiritualist, and nutritionist, along with a complete “re-education” curriculum, to get him back in balance.

At the outset, Phoenix rejects all of his highly praised acting performances, stating that his artistic output has been fraudulent to this point. That an actor who repeatedly has been called among the best of his generation—turning in amazing performances from Quills, Signs, and Walk the Line, just to name a few—would dismiss all that seems unbelievable.

And maybe it is.

There has been continuing speculation that the film is a complete put-on, and perhaps “the true Hollywood story” will be revealed at some point in the very near future. In the meantime, at the recent Venice Film Festival and then the Toronto International Film Festival, Affleck has said the film is not a hoax.

Clearly, Affleck put a lot of energy into this piece. He has done an amazingly good job of putting together what he said was more than 400 hours of film into what truly has the look and feel of a documentary.

Maybe this is Phoenix playing a make-believe Phoenix. Is it possible to believe that a Phoenix this unlikable and not too bright is the same Phoenix who previously achieved a high level of success? That someone who has been in the entertainment business for years doesn’t know what it takes to pull off a good performance (his rapping is substandard)? That someone at this level would torpedo a career? That you wouldn’t just work on the “music thing” on the side in the style of a Dennis Quaid or Keanu Reeves?

Ultimately, I’m Still Here produces more questions than it answers. If I had to call it, I’d say it’s a con … the ultimate acting job … an experiment to see how far Affleck and Phoenix can take “this acting thing.” Maybe there’s a big clue in the name of the production company: They Are Going To Kill Us Productions – as in “They are going to kill us when they find out the truth!”

So, again, if you’re a big fan of Joaquin—maybe you will want to see this film that may be Phoenix’s best job of acting yet; Phoenix being the ultimate character actor. This one definitely makes you think about media and Hollywood, and how they influence.

3 of 5 Purple Pencils

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4 Comments

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  1. Melody Lopez 9 years ago

    Thanks for the review. Great job! I’m a fan of Phoenix’s work. I hope the project helps him find his bliss.

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    Maria 9 years ago

    I’m glad it’s now been confirmed that Joaquin is not a complete nut case and has, with this acting performance, simply reconfirmed what an outstanding actor he is!
    – reviewer

  4. Debra Eckerling 9 years ago

    Thanks for the comment, Maria. Was thinking about your review when I saw the “news” about it being a mockumentary. Phew …

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