I’m Still Here


Written by Chris Price
20 Monday 20th September 2010

I’m Still Here is the story behind the story of that story. What it is, is flummoxing. It’s a varsity jacket wearing tale of ego and quite possibly the documented unravelling of Joaquin Phoenix’s life. Either that, or a piece of high-risk gonzo mockumentary. A highly entertaining piece of feral filmmaking touching on Hollywood machine, the trappings of celebrity and 24-hour dirtsheet journalism in the internet age. Aswell as the ‘unnatural’ behaviour of being an actor.

So, October 2008 – Joaquin Phoenix announces he has been living a lie. The acting career was chosen for him, now it’s time to get real dude. He’s been cooking up a few rap cuts in his grotty garage, and he’s discovered his true calling. Diddy’s up for meeting too. Things are looking good.

So we see JP rapping, badly. Being bundled out of clubs, chopping out lines like a martyr, throwing tantrums, snubbing paps, and clinging to the notion that his Diddyfied debut will be the alpha and omega of the music industry. He will have successfully cast off the shackles of ‘actor’, and he will become a musical force of nature.

Or maybe not – Phoenix’s resolve is true. He displays the authenticity of a creative, desperate to be taken seriously. Whether he’s trying to convince himself or is aiming for the respect of his peers we’ll never quite know. The media negativity of the hoax film project only serves to galvanize his desire to make a success down one of the most well trodden and ill-advised paths in entertainment.

The more he shuns the Mulholland Drive set, buoyed by his personal six figure bankroll and adhesive friends, the more of a whiny little bitch he becomes – the CV elevates the man, the star becomes the franchise, the franchise brings the money. Break the chain and you cut off your enabler. In the increasingly frequent moments he steps aside from himself, we see what could be genuine moments of utter remorse and confusion. Hoax or real, this very really could be his downfall.

I’m Still Here is very much about perception – the perception of actors and the media that follow them. The perception of the detractors and commentators that critique and complain. The perception of the mockumentary in a community that’s been burnt – Borat and Bruno left more of a mark on reality subversion than maybe the film world would like to admit. While not exceptionally original – Sean Meadows’ Le Donk and Scor-Say-Zee, Ricky Gervais doing the Baftas in character for Extras, it certainly shifts the goal posts because of its high risk strategy. This is two hours of Phoenix gnawing on the hand that feeds – will there even be a career to go back to?

There is an undercurrent of mischief throughout the whole film. When JP and team make the penance to Diddy’s hotel suite (after two failed meetings, due to JP getting smoked out in his hotel room), there’s a definite air of piss-takery, as if they’re about to set fire to bag of dog poo on his mat and scamp off around the corner. Herein lies the watchablity of the film – it’s eminently entertaining, a similar level of jockcockery to that of Jackass. It might document a series of fairly random moments, but its flow its perfect, constantly throwing curve balls through language, creative camera work and incidental ‘stage-left’ moments. It’s privileged and egocentric, but its wild. But like Jackass, did Affleck and co. Rain down a hail of NDAs? Was JPs Las Vegas brawl stooged and signed off by H&S suits in advance?

Scripted lives conducted in front of a camera has provided crucial ratings for TV channels. Vacuous fauxlebrities provide shallow role models for this generation of impressionable teens, where being wild requires money, upbringing and privilege. All of which conspires with the hunt for fame to ultimately prove their own undoing. Many actors have been driven to distraction through method acting. Why not live out that character for real?  Would you get the same level of respect? Take it step further and backwards engineer your own life to throw in a little emotive gravitas – the worry of meandering self destruction is with the film throughout (and the ever-present spectre of Joaquin’s cousin River).

Everyone will have their own take on I’m Still Here. Whether it’s deemed a culturally wise manoeuvre, will either be dictated whether JP and Affleck are ‘welcomed back’ to the glitterati fold, mildly chided for being cheeky scamps, with a successful feature film under their belts. Affleck has recently admitted it was a fake. Maybe pre-planned, or an attempt to reintegrate JP into the fold. Perhaps this will add weight to the idea of a flight of fancy which spiralled out of control. The film manages to spin you between you is reality and fantasy so many times, you won’t know what’s what. So just give it up before you get there, and go with it. Passionate, raw and creative, I’m Still Here more than succeeds as a piece of entertainment.


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