Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck’s new mockumentary film “I’m Still Here” follows the life of actor Joaquin Phoenix from his announcement from retiring from acting through his pursuit of a new career in hip hop. Phoenix plays himself in the film.
But does he?
Watching the outrageous antics of a narcissistic and overweight actor hardly feels like watching anything that could be likened to the actual character of Joaquin Phoenix, despite the literal attempts to be au natural. I no more believe I’m watching the true conversations and private moments of the Academy Award Nominated actor than I actually believe that he gave any serious interest to a career in hip hop. The only clear interesting thing about this film is that it can’t be argued that I at least watched Phoenix do all of these outrageous things. I was part of the audience for all of those decidedly awful rap performances, and I watched Phoenix snort cocaine and party with hookers and at one point I even watched him get defecated on.
Or at least that’s what the cameras wanted me to think. It’s impossible with cinema nowadays to discern anything as visual truth, because of editing and other “movie magic.” Sure, I think I watched Phoenix snort cocaine, but it could very well have been powdered sugar or ground up chalk. And the defecation scene is so poorly lit who even could see what happened. A reaction can be filmed to anything.
Which brings me to the point of this review. So what if this film isn’t true? Really. It’s a film. It doesn’t even profess to be a true documentary. Four of the ten films nominated for Academy Awards in Best Picture this year are supposedly “Based on a True Story” but what makes “The Fighter” any of them more inherently “real” than “Inception”? In the end, the best-made movie wins the Oscar, not the movie with the most facts or attention to historical accuracies.
This same theory holds for “I’m Still Here.” And I could possibly forgive the fact that I don’t believe in the “reality” of this film at all if it had been emotionally compelling or an extremely captivating film technologically, but it is neither. I’ve already alluded to the poor lighting in the film, and the camera work is in the same unimpressive and unpleasing vein. Furthermore, the plot is boring and the “emotional arc” of Phoenix seems more like a joke to me. Watching him “return to his roots” in Puerto Rico as a climactic ending to the film strikes me more as a cliché joke than any sort of true catharsis for the character. And the attempt at symbolic meaning involving Phoenix submerging himself into the water until he is completely underwater actually offended me as an audience member in its obviousness.
In the end, watching “I’m Still Here” felt like a waste of time. I’d have rather spent two hours watching animation in an attempt to find reality. Affleck and Phoenix should stick to what they know best, portraying the lives of other people.