“I’m Still Here” is the possibly real, possibly fake documentary on the downfall of Oscar winner Joaquin Pheonix, who in 2008 announced he was leaving acting to pursue a career in hip hop.
The talented actor is virtually unrecognisable as he mumbles and stumbles his way through the 107 minutes, with shaggy beard, sunglasses, and abused assistants in tow. You see him doing unspeakable things, involved with drugs, prostitutes, rapping on stage to a laughing audience and falling apart after that infamous David Letterman Show appearance.
Viewing “I’m Still Here” is like watching a car crash, you feel sick at what you are seeing, but it’s hard to look away.
If it’s real, then it’s an absolute tragedy, and Pheonix will hopefully seek the help he needs. But, there are several hints that it is a mockumentary. For one, a close look at the credits reveals several actors playing roles of “real people”. For another, I refuse to believe that Casey Affleck would stand on the sidelines and film as his brother-in-law spiralled dangerously out of control. The structure of the movie also feels a little too perfect, too “written”, and then there are the rumoured sightings of Pheonix in Venice, clean-shaven and looking like his old self.
So, if it is a hoax, then it’s a truly brave performance by Pheonix. The role of his life. He’s turned himself into a living performance arts piece, and a repulsive character at that. But as a mockumentary, “I’m Still Here” is not completely successful with the points it is trying to make about celebrity culture and the excess that goes with it, and leaves the audience feeling like the joke is on them instead of Joaquin.
“I’m Still Here” will no doubt divide audiences and spark debate. I found it uncomfortable to watch, real or fake, it left me feeling confused and more than a little sad.