Everybody loves a villain. In Joaquin Phoenix’s new movie I’M STILL HERE he allows us to watch as he turns himself into one. Though the film never admits to it, this is an experimental look at the way we interpret celebrity, debauchery and madness. As Phoenix transforms into a self-important jerk we learn something about oursleves and the expectations we place on our public figures. We have in the end or scathing criticism of Hollywood and celebrity media.
The fact that it is all fabrication does nothing to hurt the movie-going experience. In fact, it adds to it. Phoenix has invested more dedication into this character than any in his history, and the bravery he exhibits is the best part of the story.
I liked also how there was no aversion to showing uncomfortable scenes. We get to see all sorts of self-destruction such as drug use, prostitutes, vomiting and public embarrassment (including five minutes of the David Letterman interview that brought the new Joaquin character into the limelight.) Witnessing Phoenix in these compromising situations brings us closer to the character. And that’s not the only method they employ to get us to love him. There’s also something a little bit transcendent about the new Joaqhin. His image is almost prophetic and in one scene he has a reverence to the spiritual ramblings of actor Edward James Olmos. There is something identifiable in Phoenix’s desire to be true to himself and his dreams of rap notoriety. By the end of the film it is almost excruciating to witness his life completely fall apart.
If you haven’t seen this yet I’m going to completely spoil the ending for you unless you stop reading here. The final sequence of the film is one of my favorites. After his disastrous encounter with David Letterman, Phoenix flees to Panama to visit his father. The final shot of the film is an incredibly long one, where Phoenix walks through a river and slowly sinks into it until he is completely submerged. This ending is a parallel to the images that started film, of him jumping into a pool near a waterfall. The clear biblical illusion to baptism is one of the most interesting concepts of the film. Phoenix is here killing his one year persona to be born again into his actual self.
All in all the movie is both compelling and entertaining. I award it 4 F**king Awesomes which will be represented by a picture of Joaquin’s beard because it’s bad ass.
I had one beer and about 12 oz. of a pretty strong screwdriver which were incredibly easy to sneak into the Broadway Theatre. There were like three other people in the theatre with Delano and I and it was so dark in there no one could have seen our drinks. In fact it was almost too dark since I myself could hardly see my own drink. I could certain hear Delano’s drinks though since he apparently has no skill for preventing them from clinking into each other and/or falling over. I award The Broadway 4 1/2 F**king Awesomes.
I’m Still Here is an exceptionally bad movie, though the attempt to entertain is admirable. The movie explores the narcissism of celebrity, or at least the character of an overconfident seemingly prima-donna who believes he can conquer any industry after conquering the film industry. What he doesn’t understand, and what P-Diddy shows, is that it takes a lot more effort to suck at music and be famous than what Phoenix is able to put out.
Yet, there are those who will say, that in the process of exploring the hubris of the celebrity, Phoenix and Casey Aflek actually explore the obsession of the public with celebrity. He pushes himself further into degradation, and the audience is expected to react. The film attempts to heap sympathy onto Phoenix, and then asks the audience to compare this to the media coverage of Phoenix, and then explore the difference. Don’t get me wrong, there are some times when I really felt as though I had to walk away from the film, feeling so sorry for the Phoenix character. This comes at what could be construed as the climax of the film, which is a meeting with P-Diddy in a studio, a meeting Phoenix has anticipated since the beginning of the film, only to be told off by Diddy. This moment is complex and crushing, as we watch all the hope drain from Phoenix, as he still attempts to cop an attitude.
Yet, this comparison between the empathy the audience is expected to feel with the character versus the media perception of him falls flat if the audience is unaware of anything Phoenix has done prior to the film, as well as the attention it has received afterwards. Some, like myself, might be unaware of Phoenix’s prior success as Johnny Cash in Walk The Line. I needed some reminding, since that character was simply Jonny Cash to me, which should be kudos to Phoenix for making the actor dissolve in the film, but I was also attempting to finger a girl on a couch in a shitty apartment while I was watching it, so I wasn’t really paying much attention anyway, so perhaps that isn’t a compliment. Nevertheless, the sheer fact that this movie depends on the notoriety of the actor’s previous success simply bounces the attention from the audience back towards the narcissism of the celebrity. In a word, this movie couldn’t stand on its own for maximum dramatic effect.
I might have relented on this film had not those responsible for creating this atrocity revealed that it was a hoax all along, as Phoenix did recently on David Letterman. This is simply another “fuck you” at the audience, which, on second thought, is kind of redeeming given that I enjoy a little butt play, as well as the works of Robert Morris and Donald Judd, whose work is also a “fuck you” to the audience. To align this film with minimalist sculpture would not be a stretch, but I will leave that to those more rehearsed in that field.
Revealing that it was a hoax all along simply shatters the reality of the documentary, and pushes it back into the realm of shear entertainment rather that informational. Can we now call it a documentary given the information? Can we simply ignore the information and appreciate it for what it is? If we have to have an understanding of what is at stake for our pro/antagonist as far as his previous success is concerned, don’t we have to have take into consideration what is said of the film after the film?
Throughout the film, there is a grappling with the frustrations of the general public believing Phoenix is hoaxing it up. While they play it off pretty well, confronting one of his assistants about allegedly selling information to the press, what if it had all worked out? What if Phoenix had succeeded in throwing away a film career for music? Let’s not forget that Diddy liked two track produced by Phoenix, even he was being polite, and even if Diddy might have been in on it. I mean, Kevin Bacon is in a band, and while it isn’t a very good band, I’m sure Bacon loves being in the band regardless of its success. Drake made his way from cut-rate acting to hip-hop stardom. And there are less talented people out there that have had success, like ICP. If Phoenix had had some minor success in hip-hop, would he have pursued it? And then what might we think of the film?
There were a lot of funny parts in the film that probably could not have been replicated if it was scripted, such as Phoenix getting shit on, and there were some powerful moments, such as Phoenix baptizing himself in the river (and then arising, post-film, pure and shaven to reclaim his film success). Nevertheless, this film sucked, like all movies do. Obvious gaffs, such as the director, Casey Aflek jumping in and adding commentary, were blights on the documentary genre, particularly after the established fact that this is a commentary-less documentary. Plus, the “Fuck you” to the audience is a bit of a turn off, but when you think about it, kind of a turn on. Lots of shaky camera for authenticity. And Goddamn if Phoenix talking about “smelling their bubbles” isn’t really believable. In attempting to create a sympathetic character from a character that unsympathizable (such as the movie “The Wrestler”), we merely found out where Arther Craven has vanished: in Juaquin Phoenix. This leads me to my final film score: 2 1/2 fucking sucks, but since I had so much fun writing this review, I’m going to give it 1 fucking suck, but since Joaquin Phoenix is tough to spell, and even when you spell it right it still pops up in spell checker, I’m going to finally give it 1 1/2 fucking sucks, which I will also represent in the form of Phoenix’s nappy beard, which sucked.
The theater was way too dark to find where my bottles were, as I blindly groped for the bottle-opener. Furthermore, no one goes to this theater, making my colleague, Johnny Awesome, and I stand out as we try to down what is clearly a beer and a screwdriver. The Broadway, though, isn’t really known for its accommodations and comfort that suburb superplexes are known for, because the focus is on film, not the stadium seating, or overpriced gourmet (though you can purchase a latte, which is awesome), or the all-in-one shopping located within. The Broadway lacks all of these, and that’s why this place sucks. It cuts the crap and focuses on film. I am giving it ½ fucking suck.