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Saturday, September 18, 2010

"I'm Still Here," Claims Scruffy Phoenix in this Curious Documentary

I'm Still Here:  3 out of 5 Stars
  
[about his music]
Joaquin Phoenix: I want it to be a hip-hop/bohemian rhapsody thing. I want it to be epic.
Mos Def: ...Epic is good. Epic is...epic.

A film depicting the transition that Joaquin Phoenix the actor made into Joaquin Phoenix the bearded and overweight actor. I am not sure what I would have made of this film, had I have seen it a couple of days beforehand, when it was still unsure whether or not Phoenix had truly sworn off acting, but watching it when I did, I have mixed thoughts. On one hand it is kind of compelling to watch what is essentially a large scale method acting performance taken to its extreme. On the other hand, trying to pick apart the film for where it is that sequences are staged and who is and who isn't in on the joke tends to distract and take away from it. Still, as a whole, the film functions as brutal look at an actor trying to reinvent himself, being embodied with traits that make him unlikable but still portray him as vulnerable.
The film starts with Phoenix rambling to his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck (who also directed and edited the film) about how his life as an actor has been fraudulent and he needs to make a change. The film then shows us the seemingly slow demise of Phoenix's sanity, as he swears off acting and begins to start his new career as a rapper. We are never actually given a clear reason why filming all of this was necessary, were it to have been true.

A major goal in this film is to have Phoenix record an album under P. Diddy's rap label (credit goes to Diddy for managing to either hold his composure while being in on the joke or acting very professional by taking Phoenix seriously). Other celebs pop up into the film as well, and these appearances fall back into me questioning whether or not they were in on this more than me questioning what they must have been thinking.
Joaquin Phoenix: Are we really filming just driving in a fucking car?
As the film progresses, we see Phoenix continue to unravel. He gains weight, grows a ridiculous beard, and does drugs in just about every scene. I am not actually sure there is a shot in this film where Phoenix is completely sober. While all of these happenings occur, Phoenix manages to portray himself as narcissistic, quick to point the blame at anyone but himself, and semi-delusional about the goals he has for himself.

It's hard to actually state if I liked this film or even if I admired it. The stars really seem negligible here, because as I've said, my feelings are mixed. So really what it comes down to, in terms of recommending this film, are through means of curiosity. If one is interested in viewing this film for the sake of seeing a man, a celebrity, unravel, then there is a lot to get from this. I was certainly engaged throughout this film, and that came from what is essentially the performance that Phoenix gave.

I still question what I would have gotten from this, were still under the impression that it could be a real documentary (and sorry if that is a spoiler for real life), but this is the point of view I had to come from. However, watching things like the infamous David Letterman appearance, or seeing Phoenix perform on stage in front of thousands, and do so awkwardly and terribly give me a means to at least appreciate Phoenix's performance as a very extreme version of experimental art.

As a documentary, the film is not particularly well made in terms of how it's shot and the quality of the audio, etc. But as a look at a man, with us essentially trying to find out what is inside of him that is making him function this way, there is a good enough sense of intrigue there. Again, a recommendation that only comes from curiosity.
Edward James Olmos: It's in the darkest moments when the cracks allow the inner light to come out.

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