Directed by: Casey Affleck
Premise: A pseudo documentary in which actor Joaquin Phoenix abandons his acting career to begin work on a rap album.
What Works: I’m Still Here is a film that will be received very differently depending upon what you know or believe about the reality of the events that the film catalogues. During its production, actor Joaquin Phoenix and director Casey Affleck insisted that this was entirely legitimate but since the release of the film the two have come clean and admitted that Phoenix’s foray into rap music was a put on. Viewing the film as a part of an elaborate piece of performance art, it is impressive. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is incredible and at no point does he give the slightest hint that he is acting. Phoenix’s antics play out like an actual nervous or creative breakdown and his hysteria is alternatively tragic and funny.
What Doesn’t: Taking I’m Still Here as a satire of celebrity or as a mockumentary like This is Spinal Tap or Fear of the Black Hat, the film comes up short. Much of the movie looks and sounds like amateur filmmaking such as the tour documentaries that rock bands sometimes put out about themselves. While that might be intentional, it is distracting and hurts the enjoyment of the film. And that is essential if this is supposed to be a joke and if the audience is supposed to be in on that joke. The narrative is too disjointed, especially for something that was at least partially scripted, and Phoenix’s embarrassing misadventures don’t lead him or the story anywhere. There are hints of big ideas like the way entertainment media blindly transmits information or how celebrity can destroy people, or how artistic desire will find a way even without talent, but none of the film’s ideas are fleshed out. The charting of Phoenix’s travel to the bottom lacks an epiphany that would give all this some meaning. On the other hand, if the film is to be taken as a piece of performance art, then the performance is an end in itself and no epiphany is necessary.
Bottom Line: It’s almost impossible to say if I’m Still Here is a good film or not, because there is no definitive way to evaluate it. As a satire of celebrity or as a mockumentary, I’m Still Here is lacking. But as an elaborate prank, a manipulation of mass media, and a piece of performance art, I’m Still Here is a fascinating film to watch.
Episode: #314 (November 7, 2010)