I'm Still Here (2010)

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IMDb Rating
6.2 out of 10 (view IMDb page)

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Documentary, Music
Casey Affleck

Weekly Volcano's Review

Rev. Adam McKinney on September 10th, 2010

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I should start by talking about what people have been saying about Joaquin Phoenix ever since he grew that terrible beard and vowed to quit the acting game. People smelled a hoax - a giant put-on, all for the sake of a "documentary" that Phoenix's brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, was shooting - and they may have been right to do so. Having seen the film, I still cannot say whether or not it's a hoax.

However, regardless of Phoenix's motives, the things that he does to himself and his career over the course of I'm Still Here are vile, self-destructive and very real. If he felt it necessary to alienate himself from stardom in an attempt to lend realism to a mockumentary, then he succeeded in spades. That most people will forever believe he was faking it is, I guess, the last joke.

I'm Still Here opens with home video footage of Joaquin as a child, interacting with his father and his talented siblings. Flash forward 26 years, and he is being trailed by a camera as he paces in his backyard, smoking, ranting, almost unrecognizable under his filthy clothes and ever-looming stubble. This is how we will see him for the rest of the film, his beard and dreaded hair becoming a secondary character as they mark the hazy passage of time.

From the get-go, it's unclear why this document of a crumbling person was ever made. Joaquin rambles about how he felt like a phony in all of those Hollywood movies, and how he wanted to present the truest representation of himself. Casey says little about it, watching as an alarmingly impartial observer from behind the camera, as Joaquin makes mistake after bigger mistake, and further loses touch with reality.

We see glimpses into Joaquin's life, mostly through his interactions with his sycophantic and long-suffering assistants, Antony and Larry. Antony, we learn in the beginning, is a recovering addict, a fact that Joaquin seems to exploit as he lines up rails of cocaine and mocks Antony for his inability to partake.

Joaquin's plan after quitting acting is to become a rapper. We see extensive scenes of him attempting to rap in front of crowds and failing, the stunned faces of the audience recorded in all their glory. He mistakenly announces that P. Diddy will be producing his album, and spends most of the movie just trying to get a meeting with the man. When he finally does get a chance to play his music for Diddy, the ensuing scene is stunning in how it alternates between pathetic comedy and real sympathy for Joaquin.

Much of the film, in fact, is fascinating in this way. There was no shortage of chuckles from the crowd at my screening, but I'm Still Here has a way of turning on a dime into tragedy. A prime example is Joaquin's now-infamous interview on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

Letterman deftly handles the interview the best way he knew how: with calling out the elephant in the room and making jokes about Joaquin's hair ("Tell us about your time with the Unabomber") and his near-catatonic state ("We're so sorry that Joaquin couldn't make it tonight"). Afterwards, Joaquin flees to the side of a road in his awkward suit and cries. "I'm going to be a joke forever," he says. It's hard not to feel for the guy.

So, is this a hoax? Maybe. For a supposed documentary, I'm Still Here manages to set up and resolve subplots pretty tidily. Edward James Olmos visits at one point, and delivers an eloquent speech about the nature of celebrity and the ways in which one ruins oneself striving for perfection. In later scenes, Joaquin calls back this conversation, misquoting and misunderstanding Olmos' speech. It's a little too "ha-ha" to feel real.

You may feel the need to laugh at I'm Still Here, and I suspect that was part of Casey Affleck's intention. I understand the impulse to laugh, though didn't do much of it. You will be surprised to look on screen and see a person that I believe we all know. There's a person in all our lives who is such a train wreck, and in the end it's hard to find sympathy for their carnage.

It's all we can do to gaze in horror. – Three and a half out of four stars

LINK: The film is screening in Seattle

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