The question – is this a hoax or a real depiction of an artist’s very public breakdown has been circling this film since a certain appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman in 2009.
A bearded shaggy haired Joaquin Phoenix donned a black suit and baffled everybody especially the host (“I don’t come to your house and chew gum”) with what seemed like a drugged mumble distracted from the spotlight and oblivious to the audience’s laughter.
“Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight” Letterman quipped as the segment ended and within minutes the clip was a viral sensation with folks all over the internets asking “WTF?”
The answer some clung to was that it was all a prank – Phoenix was pretending to abandon acting and become a rapper and his brother in law Casey Affleck was going to film this transition for a “mockumentary”, right? Well, sort of.
“I’m Still Here” follows Phoenix around as he goes through misguided motions and we get so little insight into him that whether it’s a prank or not doesn’t matter. He’s a mess and so is this film.
See Oscar nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix snort cocaine! See him surf the internet! See him chew out an assistant for selling information to a tabloid! See him awkwardly try to talk Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs into producing his awful rap songs! See him fall off the stage! See him diss Danny DeVito! See him vomit! See him…you get the idea.
One thing that’s odd, in a movie of numbing oddness, is that there are often subtitles for scenes with possibly inaudible dialogue, but there’s not for any of Phoenix’s rapping performances which are often intelligible.
At first I thought we may benefit by reading what’s he’s rapping, but now I think the film makers may be doing us a favor. It’s a pointless rambling documentary but what’s worse is that it’s not funny.
If Affleck and Phoenix are pulling a prank, they don’t seem to be having any fun with it. So much of it seems to be about Phoenix’s suffering and not knowing what to do next.
Apparently now Phoenix is up for some new roles and is not retiring from acting, but I believe that at one point he was sincere about quitting. He seems to have taken the idea of an alternate career – rapper – seriously too. Years from now this poorly made boring documentary (not a “mockumentary” mind you – it’s not clever enough for that) will be thought of as an odd unwatchable side note and Phoenix will be back in the spotlight as an actor.
I’m glad Joaquin Phoenix is here, but next time I hope he plays to his strengths – that is his impeccable acting skills and we’ll forget this dismal diversion.