I wrote it and got paid for it. But it never made it into the digital archive at Metromix Nashville. Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice... So I saw this before it premiered at Toronto, but it opened in Nashville after the involved parties had revealed the whole thing to be a hoax. So that's annoying. Here's my genuine response. You're soaking in it.
In 2009, just after completing the film Two Lovers, Joaquin Phoenix announced his retirement from acting in order to pursue a career as a rapper. Befuddlement ensued, from fans who’d followed Phoenix’s career as an acclaimed actor as well as a celebrity-obsessed media that couldn’t help but wonder at the sheer randomness of the whole thing. So from that, Phoenix began to document his transition into hip-hop with the help of his brother-in-law Casey Affleck. This film is the result of that, following Phoenix’s downward spiral into what very well could be a self-created career annihilation.
Everyone is wondering whether or not I’m Still Here is real or fake, or ‘real.’ When you’re talking about film or fame, there is no real, at least not in the way that suits an easy dualist perspective. My guess is that the germ of this film started out as invented and planned, and that during the course of this ‘documentary,’ the outside world decided to play along and everything got too real for everyone, and Phoenix ended up in showbusiness limbo.
Filth abounds, as well as a good deal of drug use, pimpcraft, exploitation, nudity, and empty Hollywood debauchery. In its defense, I’m Still Here does have a staggeringly effective and beautiful final shot, a miraculously tranquil and haunting moment. But the slog of it is just brutal.
I give Casey Affleck a good deal of credit as an actor.
As a director/documentarian, he’s coming from some place very different. At its best, this film is like evidence for an intervention, or a cautionary tale for anyone trying to get too metatextual with their career. You feel a corrosive sense of pity for Phoenix at first, one that eventually gets used up by the ceaseless, whiny grind of watching a goof on the idea of celebrity that acquired its own malignant inertia and ended up fulfilling its fake crisis with a real one. Let’s hope this mess scares Phoenix into rediscovering a passion for acting.