Rated R for sexual material, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some drug use and crude content
Whether I'm Still Here is a farce or real, it was still pretty entertaining.
Joaquin Phoenix decided to leave acting and become a rapper. This is his journey.
I've been following the story of Joaquin Phoenix since he first made the announcement that he was retiring from acting and focusing on music. For the last few years, every so often you'd see him pop up on YouTube rapping in Las Vegas or appearing on Letterman. Each time I saw him he was getting more and more crazy looking, and people kept wondering whether it was real, or whether it was a huge hoax. I'm Still Here is the documentary his brother-in-law Casey Affleck made about Phoenix's journey from actor to rapper. And while, in the end, I believe this is just a large hoax, I don't necessarily thing it's that simple.
The film starts with some childhood footage of Phoenix and quickly jumps to his award-winning turn in Walk the Line. Then he retires from acting and apparently doesn't shave for the next 3-4 years as he tries to turn into a legit rap artist. But every step of the way he hits a wall of failure - whether it's a rambling performance in a local bar, or playing his music of P. Diddy. Nothing seems to go right for him, but to his credit he keeps on going. At times, the movie plays too much like a comedy to be really believable, but then you stop and think - he did this for 3 years! That's a hell of a lot of time to dedicate yourself to a joke, isn't it? It's not as if he could put in a wig and a beard every few months to film a scene or two.
There are a few scenes where his reactions to what people are saying about him feel very real. The Letterman performance, at the time it happened, was hysterical because everyone firmly believed this was a joke. But in the context of the film, you wonder if being completely eviscerated by Letterman really hurt him. Immediately after the show he runs into Central Park and breaks down, wondering if he's made the worst decision in his life. He seemed truly upset by what his life has become. Is Phoenix really that good an actor?
But then there are some scenes where you can't imagine they'd be willing to show this on film. At one point he's smoking pot, snorting coke and ordering hookers on the phone. In face, for most of the movie he seems like he's high. And while he's saddened at times by what is happening, he never feels like someone about to hit rock bottom. He's concerned, yes, but not despondant.
One of my friends posited the following theory: Phoenix decided that for the sake of making art, he was going to try to become a rap star. He told maybe one or two people (Afflect being one of them) that he was doing this and he wanted to film it. Whether he was serious or not about actually becoming a rap star is irrelevent - the main idea what just to see if he could, and how people would react to him. Does that make this a hoax? Or a piece of performance art? I suppose that's up to you to decide.
I actually enjoyed the film. There was something fun about trying to figure out, scene by scene, if this was real or if he was just putting us on. There are a lot of humorous scenes, and some interesting cameo appearances by the likes of Ben Stiller and, strangely enough, Edward James Olmos. The pacing of the movie was decent, with something new happening every moment, but the ending of the movie dragged on a little. It got to be overly dramatic towards the end, especially the final few minutes. Phoenix is hard not to pay attention to, especially with his ridiculous hair and beard combination. He's not popular enough that people wouldn't believe he could do this, but popular enough that people would be curious. But in the end the real question is, do you care? Whether this is a hoax or real, does anyone really care about what Joaquin Phoenix does with his life?
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I liked I'm Still Here. I do believe it's not 100% real, but I do think a lot of the emotions are. Definitely worth checking out.