If Joaquin Phoenix managed to have me pretty fully convinced that he was serious when he did the “Hasidic meth dealer” act for over a year, does that make him a good actor … or me a gullible onlooker? In a way, that’s the sort of question “I’m Still Here” wants you to answer, although there was enough media coverage surrounding Joaquin Phoenix’s committed transformation that a movie just seems unnecessary.
Directed by Phoenix’s brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, the movie is a piece of performance art by Joaquin Phoenix masquerading as a documentary. He makes some interesting observations on the nature of the star, which detract from the actor. The reasoning is that by excising the actor and becoming a rapper (something he is incredibly ill-suited to tackle) we will realize that we love the celebrity more than we love their talent.
And, in a sense, he’s right. As we observe his year of withdrawal, we see the media circus in full tilt, quick as ever to judge. They mistake the performance for the personality, much as I and many others did. The documentary flirts with this blurry line, and there are many times when it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. This problem isn’t made any easier by Affleck’s unstable direction, but it makes for a perplexing experience that virtually requires the viewer to take on the role of a detective exploring Phoenix’s mind.
This artistic experiment Phoenix puts on for a year is never dull or boring. The best word to describe it is bizarre, and all of his strange fetishes for strippers, drugs, and cruel pranks make him out to be either one sick actor or deranged man. Either way, “I’m Still Here” doesn’t endear us to any side of Joaquin Phoenix. It’s an uncomfortable watch at times as he borders on insanity, even knowing that it’s all a big hoax.
What I think Phoenix doesn’t realize is that this offbeat performance has forever enshrined him in our minds as a kooky celebrity, not an actor, in effect giving an averse reaction. Whatever the case, I’ll certainly never see “Walk the Line” in the same way as before. B- /