[Movie Review] I’m Still Here (2010)

For those unfamiliar, I’m Still Here is the much discussed, yet virtually unseen documentary chronicling Joaquin Phoenix’s departure from acting into the world of hip-hop, which was proceeded by a string of bizarre public appearances, leading some to believe the movie was a hoax.

It turned out they were correct, as shortly after the film’s release, its director, Casey Affleck, revealed the film to be a fake. Despite knowing this, I still went into the movie with an open mind and tried to judge it on its own merits, ignoring that it wasn’t real.

Unfortunately, I found this to be impossible.

Knowing nothing was real made it seem like nothing was at stake. Whether its several failed attempts to get P. Diddy to produce his album, or him freaking out and crying about his infamous Letterman interview from 2009, how are we supposed to care about how devastated he is?

That’s not to say this couldn’t have been a good film, but the primary storyline which needed to be compelling for this to work simply wasn’t.

Much of I’m Still Here tries to explore how people’s perception of Phoenix the actor has a negative effect on how they respond to Phoenix the rapper, which is an interesting story to play up.

The problem is, his rapping is so jaw-droppingly awful that no one would possibly ever accept him in this realm. Had Pheonix actually had something to offer, this could have been a very thought-provoking piece of work. Instead, it’s just sort of irritating and dull.

Much of the blame for the movie’s failure I’m afraid must be placed on the shoulders of its first-time director.

Casey Affleck is a very good actor whose done excellent (some might even say, underappreciated) work in movies like Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James, but he isn’t able to elevate this material. It’s just scene after scene of Pheonix embarrassing himself, yelling at people and acting like a petulant and hypocritical baby who I just didn’t want to watch anymore.

Even the most reprehensible movie characters can be watchable if they are presented in an interesting enough light. Here, the only joy we get out of watching Phoenix is when he fails or when a member of his entourage takes a dump on him while he’s sleeping. The rest of the time we’re just waiting for this movie to end.

Despite my objections to the movie as well as his sheer unlikeability, I will admit what Phoenix has done here is very ballsy and he does deserve a tip of the hat. To endure the public embarrassment he put himself through to make this movie, from Letterman to actually performing his horrendous raps on stage, takes a great deal of dedication.

In the end though, that makes the movie all the more disappointing. Phoenix is convincing enough to have sold this as real, and making an intriguing mockumentary was within the grasps of everyone involved. Instead, we’re left with an unpleasant and kind of smug look at celebrity life that’s nowhere near as interesting and thought-provoking as it should be.

Final Words:

While it no doubt played a part in my reaction to the movie, the fact that the action depicted in I’m Still Here is fake isn’t my primary reason for disliking it. While you do watch with a sort of morbid fascination, it’s still a very boring way to spend 1hr. and 47 min.

An interesting failure is still a failure. Phoenix’s balls (which, FYI, are on display literally and figuratively) aside, this movie remains a disappointing missed opportunity, and while it’s interesting enough not to be totally dismissed, it’s dull enough to be skipped.

Final Score: 5.0/10

Special Aside: This year I have seen the penis’ of Joaquin Phoenix, Willem Dafoe and (allegedly) Brett Favre. If anyone has suggestions for how to turn my life around, I’m open to hearing them.

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