Two years ago, actor Joaquin Phoenix stumbled onstage sporting an overgrown beard, unkempt hair and dark sunglasses for an interview with David Letterman. Fans speculated about this odd behavior as he shifted nervously in his seat and mumbled that he was going to give up acting. Little did they know his interview was one of many pieces of amateur footage gathered over the course of two years to put in the disappointing documentary hoax, “I’m Still Here.”
Casey Affleck’s “mockumentary” — a style of film where fictitious events are filmed in documentary style — follows Phoenix as himself as he throws away his acting career to become a hip-hop artist. The actor stumbles through the story drunk, high and completely in denial of his lack of skill, until finally he realizes not even celebrities can make dreams come true.
Though the mockumentary has an interesting presence, it is extremely difficult to watch and not just because of its tragic subject. Visually, the film is nothing more than two hours worth of shaky, amateur camera work, dimly lit nightclubs and dirty hotel rooms. The film has no clear structure because there are no defining moments of character development. It’s nothing more than a recording of Phoenix going through the monotonous, structure-less, and seemingly random events of day-to-day life.
The film has no clear story arc, and the closest thing to a climax would be a scene of Phoenix vomiting in a toilet. All the characters except Phoenix are easily forgettable — most of them disappear from the story only a few minutes after they’ve been introduced. This ultimately hinders the film because it gives the audience no likeable characters to relate to.
Phoenix wants to appear as an average, hard-working Joe, but instead he comes off as a spoiled, delusional fool. His dialogue is mostly indiscernible because he is constantly mumbling, shouting or swearing. He degrades his friends and hurts the people who love him. If this behavior is part of a hoax, then Phoenix has succeeded in giving a great performance as a complete loser. If this is real, then he has only succeeded in humiliating himself.
On the plus side, the film does raise some interesting questions about the way our society treats celebrities. Throughout the film, no one is brave enough to confront the actor about his foolish behavior. The celebrity treatment of Phoenix in the film will make audiences wonder if society unintentionally encourages the downfall of celebrities by rewarding them with publicity for their brash behavior.
The film does offer a few moments of heartfelt sincerity that reveal the naïve childhood Phoenix hidden behind the bumbling jerk. It’s nicely book-ended with a shot of Phoenix as a nervous young boy trying to gather up enough courage to dive into a pool of water. Because this shot makes him seem more human, it gives the film a somewhat redeeming quality.
“I’m Still Here” tries something new and provides a true view of celebrity downfall. However, amateur camera-work, a structure-less story, and Phoenix’s strange actions make this hoax more interesting to speculate about than to actually watch.
“I’m Still Here” was directed by Casey Affleck.