Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Casey Affleck

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual material, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some drug use and crude content)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 9/10/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 9, 2010

The main question accompanying I'm Still Here is the same one that journalists and entertainment "journalists" have been asking since Joaquin Phoenix announced in October 2008, out of the blue, that he would be retiring from acting. His next career move would be to start as a rapper.

The question everyone asked: Really?

So is the question with I'm Still Here, the documentary by actor and Phoenix's brother-in-law Casey Affleck. Is Phoenix for real? The answer, based on what we see in the film, is almost unequivocally, yes. Or it's almost certain he's not.

At first, it seems a prank. Phoenix complains about the art of acting as serving as a "puppet," a mouthpiece for other people's words and ideas, told what to wear, where to move, and what to say. He's too creative in his own right to waste his life so, he argues. So why venture into hip-hop, everyone, including Sean Combs, whom Phoenix hopes will produce his first album? He has an answer for Combs, who, like everyone else, wonder if this is a gag. Combs doesn't want to risk being the butt of a joke, so Phoenix calms his fears in a long, seemingly prepared statement about his rationale. It makes perfect sense to him, and none to anyone who is really listening. Combs sees his passion and, maybe, believes him. At least he believes him enough to give Phoenix some kind words before shipping him off with his demo.

The film might have started as a vanity project. Phoenix sees a lot of irony throughout his misadventures trying to break away from fame in film and breaking into fame in the music industry, and he recognizes how strange it is to agree to be in a movie about leaving the movie business. He doesn't recognize a lot of the real irony, especially when it's leveled against him. He accuses his friend and personal assistant Antony of betraying him by talking the press. "I was mad at you before," he later, relatively calmly, says to Antony; "Now I just feel sorry for you."

That is the journey Phoenix takes in our eyes over the tumultuous first five months of his decision. He begins the film a typical, egotistical celebrity. He complains that he's stuck in a minivan while other famous types are flying in a private jet. He bemoans the fact that his latest movie wasn't nominated for any awards. He is not very likeable.

Then we start to see from where his thought process is coming. Yes, he wants to be famous in his new career path but because that's how he evaluates success. He acts as though he doesn't care, attending a press junket for interviews and scolding a journalist for asking the question on everyone's mind. He shows up sitting across from David Letterman, saying he knows nothing about his latest movie, but when his blasé attitude becomes a joke, his façade of collectiveness breaks. He watches his appearance on television and takes it out on Antony.

If I'm Still Here started as a vanity project, it became a debasing one. If it is a hoax, it shows Phoenix as an actor entirely without fear. He comes across as an entitled and spoiled but pained and confused guy. He snorts cocaine, struggles to put his shoes on over his increasing gut, and vomits after a music gig goes wrong. Whatever the truth or fiction, the last shot, following Phoenix as he walks down a river with his back turned to the camera until he literally gets in over his head, sums it up pretty succinctly.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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