I'm Still Here (Movie Review)

Director: Casey Affleck
Writers: Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Anthony Langdon
Additional Information: 15 certificate 

Disclaimer: This review may contain spoilers, as well as a fair share of nuts.

I'm Still Here is a strange but interesting film. It's basically a mockumentary (fictitious events presented in a documentary style-film) about actor Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, Walk the Line) retiring from acting and adventuring into music with a hip hop career. It deals with Phoenix's supposed meltdown and what the Hollywood media and world think of this surprising career change for the two time academy award nominee. Phoenix did actually announce his retirement from acting as though it were true and people did believe it, but it was only done for the purpose of the film. After the film was released Phoenix and Casey Affleck (brother in-law to Phoenix, and an actor in his own right; Gone Baby Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford ) annouced that the events were staged and scripted. Phoenix is still acting, appearing in the recently released The Master. Got it? All clear? Ok then, let us proceed.

So now you know what the film is about on the surface, but what is it about underneath? Why was the film made and with what intention? Well Phoenix said it came out of his amazement with people believing claims by Reality TV shows that they were unscripted. So he sought to make a film that 'explored celebrity, and explored the relationship between the media and the consumers and the celebrities themselves' through pretending to retire from acting. A way the film does this is through different people's reactions to Phoenix's career change and how people don't take him seriously as a hip hop artist. After an unsuccessful gig Phoenix becomes distraught, saying to his friend that people are looking at him as an actor and not a hip hop artist and judging him on that, which he doesn't want. He thinks people have preconceptions of him and aren't judging him on his rapping skills but as an actor. I may not be an expert at hip hop or rap but he isn't very good anyway.

Things don't get any better for Phoenix. He lands a deal to work with Diddy to produce an album but things aren't as easy as Phoenix hopes/expects and Diddy isn't too cooperative. One bit I found particular interesting is Phoenix's real life appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman (the only thing I can think of that is similar in England is The Jonathan Ross Show). Letterman makes Phoenix feel very uncomfortable and mocks his career change. What is most interesting about this scene is how harshly Letterman treats him and how the audience laugh at his jokes. They are so unaccepting of his career change and his retirement from acting. But why? It really shows how the Hollywood system works; actors may be free to choose and decline their roles in films and do what they want with the money but they are essentially trapped in the system. Try to leave and they are ridiculed and dismissed, never able to have anything else they are involved in to be successful. After the show we even see Phoenix crying at the harsh way he was treated. He may just be acting but it shows how he would feel if it were reality.

Phoenix has another unsuccessful gig where he attacks a punter. This is where the film ends with Phoenix walking along a river slowly being submerged, whilst some beautiful music (Two Sunsets by Ludovico Einaudi) plays over the top. This scene could be seen as him walking away from it all and that he's had enough. After two award nominated performances in Gladiator and Walk The Line he had the world of Hollywood at his fingers but he chose not to indulge but instead escape from that world and change career. What did Hollywood do? Laugh and scorn him. He keeps trying in his new career but it is thrown back again and again so he finally leaves it all behind.

As I said at the start, the film is strange but interesting. It is a tough nut to crack though, as the message it is trying to get across is not always clear to the casual observer. It would take someone better than me to fully appreciate the film and messages that Affleck and Phoenix are trying to convey in making this film, but it still struck a chord with me. It is worth checking out if you are interested by the premise of the film and/or exploring the world of Hollywood. Just remember, it's all acting.

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