When Joaquin Phoenix announced his retirement from screen acting to pursue a rap career, the news was met by incredulity and disbelief. Soon Phoenix was making bizarre appearances on The Letterman Show while videos emerged of him on YouTube falling off stages and attacking members of the audience. Today, Casey Affleck’s confirmation that the entire project was a hoax has put all the rumours to rest but more about that later.
Phoenix delivers a monologue early on in proceedings where he bemoans the micromanagement of screen actors which denies any opportunity for genuine self-expression. What then follows is either a master class in method acting (the result of which is to create an incredibly banal character) or a significant waste of two years’ worth of work depending on how profound you consider Phoenix’s performance and the ‘message’ underpinning it.
Unfortunately, the sum total of Phoenix’s creative freedom has been to conjure up an ‘off-the-rails’ character who is both repugnant and occasionally endearing, lurching from snorting cocaine off a prostitute’s breast to allowing a disgruntled PA to pretend he’s defecating on his head. Whilst the majority of the film’s duration achieves a certain believability, Phoenix’s antics grow so crude and banal they inevitably become tiresome and undeserving of further scrutiny.
However, there is a smattering of amusing incidents stirred into proceedings to prevent the film becoming a lecture; Ben Stiller pitching Greenburg to a bemused Phoenix who assumes that he is being offered the lead role; an attempt to pitch his appalling demo to a concerned looking P-Diddy; rendering Mos Def lost for words by informing him of his plans to venture into rap being amongst the film’s most notable highlights.
I’m Still Here may appear to be a somewhat aimless vanity project on the surface but Affleck and Phoenix are positing some interesting questions regarding what it means to ‘act’. It’s a shame that their obvious enjoyment of sub-Jackass antics somewhat clouds the bigger message they had to make and ultimately diminishes the undeniably impressive performance by Phoenix who waged his professional life on this project as well as devoting huge swathes of his personal time to it.