The idea behind the creation of I'm Still Here is one of the smartest attempts at a movie in quite some time. Throughout the entire filming, the whole entertainment media was buzzing over whether or not it was a genuine meltdown of actor Joaquin Phoenix or if it was all part of some hoax being played on them. By now, almost everyone has seen Joaquin's appearance on the Letterman show in early 2009 (which ends up playing an important part in the movie). Turns out the person appearing on the show that night was not Joaquin Phoenix the actor, but "Joaquin Phoenix" the character, who is the star of I'm Still Here. Knowing it was a performance before I got a chance to see the film, I worried if the impact that the movie strives for would be lost on me as I would know from the beginning this is no different than any other fictional film. While it didn't void the entire movie for me, I still think it loses a bit of it's power and ends up being an good movie anchored by an amazing performance.
I have a hard time calling the movie a hoax though because it's really no more of a hoax than all the other reality shows on TV today. Joaquin returned to the Letterman show a few weeks ago to discuss the film and talked a bit about how the movie came to be. It all started from the idea that the majority of people buy into these reality shows simply because they are shot like a documentary and the people on them are billed as themselves. The idea snowballed from there into what we see in I'm Still Here. Watching the movie, it's insane to think that anyone would think it is real because of how absurd the things he is doing really are. The movie tries to find the line between "obviously fake" and "so crazy it must be true" and see if it can get away with being perceived as real.
Joaquin Phoenix deserves a lot of respect for this movie. He had already proven himself as an actor but his dedication to this role is phenomenal. He took a huge chance in jeopardizing his career by doing this movie and it paid off. Same can be said for the director, Casey Affleck. Casey is someone who really became a star in 2007 with roles in two amazing movies, Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Gone Baby Gone. Now we see he also has talent behind the camera as well. While it's not exactly a polished film, knowing he spearheaded the movie with Joaquin shows he has the smarts to make a really intriguing movie that will get people talking.
So while I really admire the idea and performances that brought I'm Still Here together, the movie itself just didn't intrigue me that much. I spent most of the movie admiring the performance but not invested in the story. There was too much devoted to Joaquin dealing with his entourage of assistants that just didn't work for me. It's where the movie seemed the most "fake" and dragged on a little too much. There are lots of bright spots however, especially scenes where Joaquin meets with P. Diddy to talk about his aspiring hip-hop career. I'm not sure how much P. Diddy was in on it, but I have to assume everything. If that's the case, he did a great job on camera and provides some of the funniest moments in the movie.
The movie also features lots of dark moments where Joaquin's character really goes over the edge. There is one scene in particular where he decides to order some escorts to come over and party. We then get to see Joaquin picking out the girl to call on the computer and upon finding the right one, repeatedly exclaims to the girl's picture how "naughty" she is. It was a very weird moment that made me extremely glad this is all a performance. Luckily, the mood lightens once the escorts arrive and Joaquin begins doing cocaine off one of the girls exposed breasts.
I was expecting some twist at the end where it shows it was all a setup but I'm glad they waited to admit that until after the movie came out. It allows the movie to live on it's own outside of the buzz of it's release. Joaquin the character may seem like he's gone off the deep end (literally at one point of the movie) but as the title suggests, the real Joaquin is still here, ready to take his bow. I encourage everyone to seek out this movie simply for the performance given by Joaquin. It may not translate to a mind-blowing movie, but it's one of the most important performances I've seen in quite some time. I hope come award season people are able to put aside the controversy surrounding the movie and award him for such a fearless role.