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I'm Still Here

USA 2010
Directed by
Casey Affleck
105 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars

I'm Still Here

Synopsis: Allegedly the story of how Joaquin Phoenix decided to give up acting and become a hip hop star and became an internet meme instead.

First things first. It’s a hoax. Large parts are obviously staged, and the end credits clearly state that certain roles are played by actors, rather than being “real” people. Second things second. It doesn’t make a lick of difference if it’s fake or real. By the end, the whole enterprise has taken on a life of its own, and regardless of whether it was meant as a laugh or not, Phoenix has taken a nosedive into the cesspool that is celebrity journalism and he forgot to close his mouth. His appearance on Letterman is now legend; Ben Stiller appeared at the Academy Awards in a skit parodying his famously disinterested appearance on the show. And we’re shown countless other similar sketches. Phoenix has a breakdown and complains that he’s ruined his life, that he’ll be tarred with this forever. And it’s true. He will be. It doesn’t matter if it was all an act, it’s part of pop culture now.

And having got that out of the way, the real question is was it all worth it?

The answer is yes. I’m Still Here is a well-made film, intelligently structured film full of clever little digs at a range of ideas on celebrity culture. The emptiness of Phoenix’s life, the rather drab state of his two homes, counters the expected glitz of a celebrity lifestyle. The moments of the film dedicated to Phoenix calling up hookers and doing drugs are sad and pathetic, de-glamourising the whole ideal of celebrity excess. And his reasoning for abandoning acting is intelligently put. He feels like a puppet, realising someone else’s dreams when he has his own he’d like to pursue. Not to diminish what an actor brings to a role, but he’s got a point there. But the best moment, for me at least, comes when he reads out loud a children’s book about how you should follow your dreams. Because in large part, I’m Still Here is about a man chasing a dream, a pursuit of self-expression that he has almost zero talent for.

Joaquin Phoenix the hip hop star never really comes to fruition, because he’s no good at it. But nobody around him  is willing to say he’s no good. And that’s really the point it seems. Our culture indulges talentless bums because they provide entertainment. Just watch the cringeworthy reality programs where the laughs come from how terrible the contestants are, and how oblivious they are to that fact. It’s a sneering, superior and “hip” culture that “gets” the irony of it all, while ignoring the inherent cruelty in deriving entertainment from mocking someone. And it’s also the indulged unwillingness of people to engage in self-criticism, to evaluate their work and decide if it’s any good or not. How many people do you know personally who’d call themselves artists of one stripe or another, and would you pay for their work? In I’m Still Here, friends are unwilling to hurt a loved one’s feelings, and enemies revel in the disintegration of a talented actor. If it weren’t for the certain fact that Phoenix and Affleck are playing a prank, you’d feel awful for enjoying the film. And Affleck would have to be outed as the cruellest and most exploitative brother-in-law on the planet.

I’m Still Here asks some very smart questions about the nature of celebrity, how it can be achieved and what that says about us. It’s also by the end a surprisingly sympathetic story, because it doesn’t matter if it’s a joke or not, the whole world was laughing at, not with, Joaquin Phoenix, and he’s stuck with that. Only time will tell if it becomes a badge of pride or not.




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