Judge Patrick Naugle was never really here to begin with. You only imagined it.
Our review of I'm Still Here, published December 14th, 2010, is also available.
I'm Still Here. But do you care?
When Joaquin Phoenix had what appeared to be a complete mental meltdown on David Letterman's show a few years ago (where apparently every star seems to flock for their own personal Chernobyl), fans and industry experts speculated as to what was happening. Was Mr. Phoenix really losing his mind? Was this all a ploy for attention? A hoax? A disaster? A few years later we got our answer with I'm Still Here, a pseudo-documentary directed by Casey Affleck (brother of Ben). I'm Still Here is now on Blu-ray care of Magnolia Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
I'm Still Here follows award winning actor Joaquin Phoenix's defining moments as he moves from actor to hopeful rap artist. Along the way he swears A LOT, espouses a crap-load of deep philosophical nonsense and ultimately makes you want to turn off your TV set.
Welcome to the Joaquin Phoenix story.
Well, not really.
I'm Still Here stars Joaquin Phoenix as a fictionalized version of himself. The unequivocal mistake was having Phoenix and director Casey Affleck spill the beans that the film is a hoax months ago—everything has apparently been staged and nothing is real. This is the equivalent of letting the air out of a friend's tires before a long road trip to the middle of nowhere. Now that the cat is out of the bag, what do viewers get? A big pile of cinematic kitty litter, that's what.
I went in to I'm Still Here knowing that the film was all a big ruse. Because of this knowledge Affleck's 'mocumentary' (what else could it be if nothing is actually real?) becomes a slog to work through. Every moment of supposed shock and baffling action is bathed in falsehood. At one point in the film Phoenix calls up some hookers, snorts what appears to be cocaine and licks a woman's breast while high on drugs. This would all be jawdroppingly horrifying—a major star falling in a spiral of drugs, sex and self destruction!—if it weren't all complete 100% bull-honky. In another scene Phoenix has a meeting with Ben Stiller about doing the eventual film Greenberg and it slowly moves into awkward silence. Again, everyone is in on it, so the point would be…?
I can't really review the story because there isn't one—Phoenix is trying to jump start a singing career after abandoning his day job as an award winning actor (this isn't so much a story as a group of vignettes stolen from the floor of Harvey Levin's TMZ show). This decision is met by stunned responses—actor/rapper Mos Def looks at him as if Phoenix has informed him he's changing his skin color to black—and half hearted support by his peers. In another meeting with music mogul Sean "Puffy / P-Diddy" Combs, Phoenix pitches the idea of becoming a rapper to Combs's total dismay. All the while director Affleck cuts back to snippets of shows like "Entertainment Tonight" giving viewers updates on Phoenix's supposed retirement and career resurrection (which was often assumed to be a hoax by insiders and reporters).
So how, exactly, am I supposed to look at this movie? From the perspective of a fake story being improvised? If so, it doesn't hold a candle to such Christopher Guest films as Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. If it's meant to be funny, it's not. It's sad at times, but then you remember it's all fake and you don't feel sad. This emotion was usually followed closely by boredom and indifference. Many stars show up (Danny Glover, Edward James Olmos, Bruce Willis, Jamie Foxx, Jack Nicholson) in blink-or-you'll-miss-them cameos, but it's never clear if they're in on the joke. And if they are their appearances seem perfunctory.
What we're left with is a bogus storyline of a man self destructing, but not really. You can feel echoes of Andy Kaufman here, but at least Kaufman had the decency to be bizarrely entertaining. Phoenix comes off as a dirty, sleazy beatnik who rambles endlessly about things of little importance to his audience. I think this is meant to be performance art, but I'd prefer if they had performed this for their family and friends in a basement instead of committing it to celluloid. Ugh.
I'm Still Here is presented in 1.78:1 1080p widescreen. The filmmakers take their material from difference sources (home video, news segments, dark rooms, concert stages), so the picture quality varies from scene to scene. Some of the recently filmed scenes look very good, but the bulk of this transfer is often muddy and drab (any heavy polish and I'm sure people would have immediately known this was a hoax).
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio in English. Much like the video transfer, this is a very mediocre sound presentation with bad mic work, often mumbled discussions and muffled music. That's about the best that can be said about this soundtrack.
I'm Still Here includes the following bonus features: two commentary tracks (one with director Casey Affleck, and a second with Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix, Nicole Acacio, Larry McHale, Anthony Langdon, Johnny Moreno, Eddie Rouse, Matt Maher, Elliot Gaynon and Sue Patricola) that are rambling and don't offer a lot of insight into the real motivations behind this project, some deleted scenes (with commentary by Affleck), some audio conversations with Phoenix and Affleck, an "Extra" interview with Phoenix and some alternate ending outtakes with commentary by Affleck.
Color me unimpressed. I'm Still Here is a real drag of a movie; had this been a real life incident it would have made it far more fascinating, but also a whole lot more depressing. I don't enjoy spending my time watching a celebrity destroy himself, even if it's all a show.
I'm Still Here is guilty of feeling like one big cheat.
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