Monday, 13 September 2010


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

Documentary or mockumentary? Real or fake? That's the question many will be asking about Casey Affleck's directorial debut, which turns the camera on actor (and brother-in-law) Joaquin Phoenix in the year proceeding his announcement that he was retiring from acting to pursue a new career as a hip hop artist.

I fall very much on the fake side of the argument. For for all it's fly-on-the-wall, actor-in-meltdown cinema verite, there's a sly sense of fun that keeps breaking through the very convincing facade constructed by Affleck and Phoenix. The most painful moments in the film are not watching Phoenix snort coke, order hookers off the internet or vomit in toilets (though that scene is still hard to watch); it's whenever he takes to the stage to bust a rhyme that really kills you. Didn't Phoenix do all his own singing as Johnny Cash in Walk The Line (2005)? I could also have done without the constant exposure to his expansive naked paunch.

We've all seen Phoenix's funny-cringey appearance on David Letterman where, resembling a hobo in a suit, he proceeded to mumble (if speak at all) in response to Dave's questions and ribbing. We've also seen the subsequent send-up by Ben Stiller (who appears briefly in the film, pitching the script for Greenberg to Phoenix) at the 2009 Oscars. Both of those instances appear in I'm Still Here but Affleck is more concerned with what the public hasn't seen.

That may be one of the driving forces behind this exercise, not so much the message that 'it's tough being a celebrity' (boo freakin' hoo) but to show up the silliness of the entertainment industry and the media's fascination with it; the inordinate amount of time and energy invested in pursuing the minutae of celebrity lives, sometimes at the expense of the dignity of those lives.

But that's another reason to accept I'm Still Here as a fake. Phoenix isn't going to win sympathy by presenting himself, as he does, as an egotistical head case, especially when he eventually returns from his “retirement”, clean shaven, in shape and delivering the high caliber performances we know he is capable of. There's no point in giving good performances if no one's buying tickets to see them.

Of course, if it's not a hoax then it's a sad loss and I'd recommend watching the little seen Two Lovers, the 2009 film which Phoenix was supposed to be spruiking during his Letterman appearance. It's one of the actor's best performances and a wonderful (as the case may be) swan song.

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