22 November 2010

Joaquin Away- I'M STILL HERE Review

You're all going to see Harry Potter this week, right? There's not a lot else out, so we're once again left to look back at 2010's other releases. One I've been meaning to catch up with for a while is I'm Still Here, the Casey Affleck mockumentary about his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix, who's had a funny old year.

As we find him at the beginning of the film, poor old Joaquin is frustrated with the acting profession, an unhappiness seemingly borne out of jealousy over more successful actors of his generation, as he frequently mentions Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. So he dons a pair of sunglasses, grows a beard and announces he's packing it all in to start a hip hop career. All of this really happened, but as we now know, none of it really happened.

You see, on the day that I'm Still Here was released in North America, Casey Affleck spilled the beans, as prompted by the distributor. He stridently asserted however that it wasn't a "hoax", as many had reported it, but an act. He cited Picasso in saying that "Art is the lie that tells the truth." More cynical reviewers than I would figure that they were angling for recognition at the Oscars. The sooner Affleck confessed that the film was fiction, the sooner the thought occurs to the Academy voters that Joaquin Phoenix's method acting might deserve an Oscar for Best Actor.

There's just a little too much hubris about the film and Phoenix's performance for me to believe that. If it were intended as a study of celebrity, or how fans can be very fickle, or how the individual is lost within the hype of fame, then why would it be so narrativised, a la Borat? We spend too much time with Phoenix and his cast entourage and not enough exploring the real life reaction to his actions. All of this was widely reported as it happened, and even though some suspected it was constructed towards an outcome like this film, there was some interesting stuff in there.

Although I give kudos to Phoenix for being bold enough to potentially wreck his career in the way that he did, and for staying in charcter for the best part of a year and a half, I only came out of I'm Still Here wondering what it was all for. It's not that funny, or insightful, and it's ruined by the knowledge that it's all for laughs anyway. Whatever the studio's intentions were in giving the game away on the day of release, the effect is like someone telling a joke after they've already given the punchline away. It's not helped by all the recognisable faces who are in on the joke, like Ben Stiller and Sean "Don't Call Me Diddy" Combs.

It's a shame, because Casey Affleck is obviously a very talented director, and he's doing enough differently from brother Ben to make me very intrigued about whatever he's up to next. The same goes for Phoenix- I didn't rate him massively as an actor before all of this, but now that his little experiment is over and done with, I suspect the recovery will be more interesting than the actual process turned out.

I'm Still Here takes a cue from its pandering title, making hubris out of a potentially interesting concept. The funniest part of the film is his appearance on David Letterman's show, broadcast on US television and discussed to death on the internet over a year before the film's release. Letterman wasn't in on the joke, but now that we all are, there aren't many laughs to be had in a mockumentary that owes more to Sacha Baron Cohen's guerilla comedies than to more straight-faced and accomplished satires like Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver. It's ultimately a disappointment that Phoenix would use all of that energy and all of that talent towards an endeavour that turned out so pointless.

I'm Still Here will be available on DVD and blu-ray in 2011.
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If you've seen I'm Still Here, why not share your comments below? If you're clinging to the faint hope that Mel Gibson is following suit and fictionalising his own mental breakdown for a film, join me in hopelessly anticipating "I'm Still Fucking Nuts".

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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