Reality isn’t what it used to be. What with Kardashian rivalries, Tony Blair memoires, and movies based off of Mark Zuckerberg’s life (let’s pray there are many more to come) it’s hard to know truth from fiction now a days. And one man helped contribute to that reality-blurring fetish and, in doing so, called a shitstorm upon himself. That man is Joaquin Phoenix.
Let’s back up a bit. In the fall of 2008 the Academy Award nominated, gentle-spirited actor, unexpectedly announced that, at the age of 33, he was retiring from acting to pursue a career in hip-hop. It was also revealed that the pursuit of this musical dream would all be documented on film by his brother-in-law, actor Casey Affleck. Soon after followed an array of bizarre public appearances, all of which were coupled with a beard, a gut, and a slurring of words. People immediately started questioning the authenticity of these behaviors, the words “hoax” and “publicity stunt” were thrown around like they were going out of style.
Then all was quiet for about a year; Joaquin faded from the spotlight, Casey did his acting thing in The Killer Inside Me, the whole thing was nearly forgotten. That is until about a month ago when the appropriately titled, I’m Still Here was released. Here are some things that have been said about this “documentary:”
- “The worst thing about I’m Still Here is the fact that it exists” (Dana Stevens, Slate.com)
- “Joaquin is simply adding to the ugliness, encouraging the fools, and wasting everyone’s time” (Laremy Legel, Film.com)
- “All of this is true. At least we must assume it is. If this film turns out to still be part of an elaborate hoax, I’m going to be seriously pissed” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).
Needless to say, the film is not getting much love. Well, really it should be said that people really hate this movie. The question of whether it was real or not plagued critics—most of whom believed it was worthless either way. Here’s what I think.
If it had been a documentary:
As Affleck’s directorial debut, it was a fine film. It was well-edited, insightful, and some of the shots were absolutely beautiful. If Affleck really had been capturing truth, it would be an extremely sad tale of the self-destruction of a lost actor. It would also be enormously successful at commenting on the media and celebrity. How disgusting is it that as soon as Joaquin started exhibiting these peculiar behaviors people turned on him? Hateful internet threads were written, impressions were made (many of which by friends of Joaquin), and his career was annihilated. Suddenly, since he had obviously lost his grasp on reality, it was all right to make a mockery of anything he did and call his morals into question. I’m Still Here captured the two-faced side of the industry while also giving an inside view of what that can do to a person. That is if it had been a documentary…
But it isn’t, so:
“We wanted to do a film that explored celebrity… explored the relationship between the media and consumers and celebrities themselves. We wanted something that would feel really authentic. I had started watching a lot of reality shows and I was amazed that people believed them, that they called them ‘reality.’ I thought the only reason why is that it’s billed as being real and the people use their real names, but the acting is terrible. I thought I could handle that. Because you don’t have to be very good, you just use your name and people think that it’s real… the experience was incredible.” – Joaquin Phoenix in his return to Late Show With David Letterman
Two weeks ago, Affleck announced that it was all a performance. According to his interview in the New York Times, he and Joaquin had felt implored to dabble in Gonzo-esque filmmaking, not in an attempt to trick anybody, but to examine people’s perception of “reality.” The news angered a lot of people. Once again the word “hoax” is being over-used, as people feel as though they have been deceived and taken advantage of. I, on the other hand, think it is brilliant. Not only does it still work as a social commentary but also, surprisingly, as a comedy. Joaquin Phoenix’s cluelessness and oafish antics are akin to Zach Galifianakis– on crack. His rap lyrics are ridiculous, his unawareness to social norms is both uncomfortable and comical, and his beard is the envy of young men everywhere. It is a role unlike any other I have ever seen him take on and it was all done at the risk of his career.
If you can’t tell by now, I absolutely loved I’m Still Here and am devastated by how much flak it is receiving. It is an amazingly acted, well-directed, and amusing illustration of the relationship between media and celebrity. If you have a chance to, you should see it soon so that you and I and the other two people in the country who have seen it can discuss its brilliance.
inspired to get my rap career kick-started,