I'm Still Here

Film
3 out of 5 stars
There was talk of Joaquin Phoenix going off the rails – behaving oddly in interviews, checking into rehab – long before news broke that this intimate doc by his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, charting a whacked-out, hairy and fat Phoenix’s withdrawal from acting during 2008 and subsequent laughable attempt to become a rapper, might be a hoax.

What’s clear from watching the film, which is presented as an up-close, fly-on-the-wall doc, following Phoenix at home in New York and Los Angeles, is that while its motivations might have been genuine, its execution is wobbly: some scenes, especially those involving Phoenix’s antagonistic relationships with his assistants, feel staged, and encounters with the likes of Ben Stiller (offering him a part in ‘Greenberg’) and P Diddy (suffering his ambition to make a record) don’t feel very real at all. Which means that you spend a lot of time trying to unpick the question of fakery and less time thinking about the issue in hand, which, we imagine, is Phoenix’s desire to say something about fame and his role in that game.

The ‘hoax’ issue is a bit of red herring: Phoenix is known for being unable to separate acting and life, and with that in mind ‘I’m Still Here’ is best viewed as a fictional self-portrait. He is giving us a version of himself, ‘real’ or not, and Affleck is merely a collaborator. The problem is that the portrait that emerges is of a vain man-child, ill at ease with the world and his place in it. It might be honest, but it’s not pretty. As playful reflections on your own persona go, Banksy’s ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ trumps this effort by a long way, but it’s mostly a compelling, teasing watch.

By: Dave Calhoun

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