By Alicia Malone
”I’m Still Here” is the documentary on the downfall of Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix, who in 2008 announced he was leaving acting to pursue a career in hip hop. There was much speculation about whether this film was a documentary or a mockumentary; but a recent New York Times interview with director Casey Affleck removed all doubt that there is any reality involved. Even the home movies were faked!
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.
When I saw the film, I didn’t yet know for sure that it was a hoax, but there were a few clues pointing to it. 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 rumours of Phoenix considering a few upcoming film roles.
I do feel a bit cheated by Affleck’s announcement; it would have been better to wait a little longer, and maybe let Phoenix reveal it himself in his September 22 David Letterman interview.
It is a truly brave move, with the actor turning 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.
If you’re focusing on the way ”I’m Still Here” will divide audiences and spark debate, then you could call it a success. But real or fake, I found it uncomfortable to watch, it left me feeling confused and more than a little sad.