Movies We Like
I’m Still Here
It’s hard to categorize the film I’m Still Here. Simply put, it plays as a documentary that illustrates a man in free fall. To suggest, however, that it is a true documentation of such only serves to perpetuate the myth (as well as the egos of its makers) behind the film itself. On the other hand, the suggestion of truth is what makes this film possible within the ether of today’s stagnant and highly unentertaining… well… entertainment. It’s pointless to over-analyze Casey Affleck’s directorial debut, as in doing so would only allow yourself to be hoodwinked by two very talented satirists who have set out to do just that: orchestrate an elaborate hoax intended to turn the mirror on the Hollywood machine and also shed light on America’s obsession with celebrity.
I’m Still Here is the fictional account of Joaquin Phoenix’s decent into madness. The film opens with Phoenix pacing around the front yard of his Hollywood Hills home while the city glimmers below. The stage is set as Phoenix declares, "I’m living in a self-imposed prison." What we see here within the first three or four minutes of the film is someone who is lost and is trying desperately to find his true identity. That identity comes in the form of J.P., the alter ego and hip-hop artist formerly known as the actor, Joaquin Phoenix.
J.P. trots around the country attempting to get in contact with Sean "P-Diddy" Combs. The idea, in and of itself, that Combs would give this awful aspiring hip-hop artist even a listen, much less production on the record, provides most of the laughter the film has to offer. Mishap after mishap ensues as J.P. struggles to pin down Combs. Interspersed throughout J.P.’s journey is random drug use (including candid shots of Joaquin Phoenix snorting large amounts of cocaine), prostitutes, flaccid/bare penises, abuse of his handlers, diatribes filled with hatred for the film industry, and great comedy rarely seen in contemporary American cinema. Depending on how people view this film, most, I think, will find Phoenix to be an extremely vile and reprehensible individual. But that’s the character he’s playing despite his incessant proclamation throughout that, "This is real. This is my life."
The idea that I’m Still Here is in fact a true account of Phoenix’s life is akin to, say, Paul McCartney’s fake death in 1966. While speculative evidence could be found on record covers and in Beatles song lyrics, as well as the subsequent denial of said evidence by McCartney and John Lennon, it all provided the fan to fuel the flame of deception of the hoax itself. Here, with I’m Still Here, Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck have found their inner Paul McCartney and John Lennon, respectively.
For two filmmakers to successfully use the very medium that they are railing against to manipulate the perception of the audience’s view of what is true and what is fiction is something that cannot be ignored. In an industry that has proven itself to be creatively bankrupt, it’s nice to see something as refreshing and as new as I’m Still Here. Affleck proves that he’s a fledgling director and Phoenix turns in perhaps one of his best roles playing “himself” and playing the audience along the way.