Monday, December 27, 2010

I'm Still Here

My brother and I decided to watch the furthest thing possible from a Christmas classic on the evening of December 25th.  We chose I'm Still Here the documentary which chronicles Joaquin Phoenix's transition from retired actor to hip hop artist.  

Of course my brother and I remembered the David Letterman appearance and the video footage of Joaquin's rap performance that went viral, but neither of us did any solid research on whether or not this was a documentary or a mockumentary, but we were leaning towards the latter.  

Even though I held preconceived notions that I'm Still Here was a hoax, while watching for the first time it was truly difficult to decipher whether or not JP (as he refers to himself) is legitimately pursuing a hip hop career, because he seems so desperately passionate about shedding his former image and exploring this musical art form.  He's also incredibly abusive to staff, friends, and sometimes total strangers who all seem genuinely terrified of him.  That, combined with drug use, manic rants, an unkempt appearance and a substantial weight gain blurs the viewer's sense of reality.  

At the end, we were left scratching our heads wondering if what we we just watched was real or fake, and if it was fake . . . who all was in on it? 

Luckily, we were watching a DVD so we could turn to the commentary which includes Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck, as well as other cast members.  Mystery solved.  

Spoilers from this point on . . .

So as we sort of expected but mostly hoped, the commentary reveals that the film is 100 percent fake and that almost all of the people featured in the movie were totally in on it.  In hindsight their reactions to JP's erratic behavior are genius- especially Sean Combs who plays a superb straight man.  

My favorite moment is when all of Joaquin's staff (who he berates daily) are gathered around him at dinner before his big rap performance and he announces that he couldn't have done any of this without them, and triumphantly shouts "we are all JP!"  

I think it's quite comical that there are so many bad reviews of this film, and from actual film critics!  This review from Robert Ebert is so scathing that it made me question whether or not he was in on the joke especially because he writes stuff like, "I have hope that if Phoenix ever cleans up his body and mind, he can be restored, and can be happy again" and "we do not desperately need another actor, but Joaquin is imprisoned within his illness, and he desperately needs to get well. If he wants a career as a singer -- well, why not country music?"

It really is a credit to Joaquin Phoenix's acting abilities that so many people thought he was for real after watching the film, but it still surprises me that these viewers would have the audacity to write reviews on IMDB and similar websites criticizing his "drug use" and lambasting him for his egotistical behavior without pausing to consider why Joaquin's brother-in-law would direct a film chronicling his "downward spiral."  Is it because they are so excited about the possibility of another celebrity meltdown and are too busy searching for stones to throw to consider that the joke is on them? Or are they keeping the joke alive? I'm hoping (for their sake) that they are keeping the joke alive, but I kinda doubt it.  

I found myself really liking both Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck after watching the movie with their commentary.  They seem like really nice people who don't take themselves too seriously and each of them seem to have a great sense of humor.  I would encourage anyone who enjoys mockumentaries  to check this out.  It takes the genre to a whole new level.  

One final thing- even though I watched this movie with my brother on Christmas it is definitely not family friendly.  

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