Thursday, September 16, 2010

Movie with Abe: I’m Still Here

I’m Still Here
Directed by Casey Affleck
Released September 10, 2010

As a premise, the recent life of Joaquin Phoenix, Oscar-nominated-actor turned failed rapper and caveman, seems like a fascinating choice for a documentary film. The poster of the sunglasses-sporting, unkempt, grizzled star makes the idea seem even more compelling, especially since much of Phoenix’s transformation happened in the public eye thanks to a much-mocked appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” Unfortunately, the discrepancy between what this movie could have been and what it turned out to be is extremely large and highly disappointing.

“I’m Still Here,” which is subtitled “The Lost Years of Joaquin Phoenix,” purports to examine the “ramifications of a life spent in the public eye.” The barrage of news clips presented in the film indicate that yes, Phoenix is a public figure, but show nothing more about how that attention caused his breakdown. With the exception of two short clips showing a young Phoenix diving into a waterfall in Panama and performing on television with his siblings, there is absolutely no background to document what Phoenix was like before his decision to effect a career change. In fact, there’s no coherent explanation whatsoever from Phoenix or anyone else about why he chose to let his acting career go and give rap a try.

Without any context for his sudden and radical decision, all of Phoenix’s actions seem like nothing more than the ravings of a madman. It certainly doesn’t help that he exhibits little talent for rap music and even less ability to deliver his rhymes in front of an audience. Nearly everything Phoenix does in this film is entirely appalling and despicable, as he mistreats his assistants and provides no reason for anyone to feel bad before him. After all the prostitutes, cocaine, and heavy drinking with which Phoenix engages during the film’s run time, there’s no sympathy left for the once-sane actor when he finally has his inevitable meltdown.

The most curious problem with “I’m Still Here” is its lack of both a point and a point of view. The film touts its incredible access to Phoenix’s daily life, but that’s only due to the fact that first-time director Casey Affleck is his real-life best friend. Affleck’s random decision to chronicle Phoenix’s post-acting career is just that: a chronicle without any additional notes or creative interpretations. It’s merely a stark, unsettling, and utterly unproductive lensing of all of Phoenix’s misdeeds and questionable acts over a certain span of time. Affleck appears to have gained some personal closure when he indulges in a lengthy closing sequence set to orchestra music of a still-unclean Phoenix wading deeper and deeper into a river, but the film has achieved no such redemption. As his best friend, Affleck is trying to be objective and capture the facts as they are, but this is one case where a bit of subjectivity and some analysis are in dire need.


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