By this time, anyone who has any interest in pop culture...even the vaguest amount...knows that Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, Signs) lost his mind about a year and a half ago. He grew a hobo beard and dredded-up his hair in strands of neglect and filth. He walked away from his Oscar-nominated career as an A-list actor to go after a ridiculous goal of being a rapper. People watched him crash and burn on the David Letterman Show and on the pages of gossip rags. Well, it turned out that it was all for this film, which was directed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck (The Killer Inside Me, Gone Baby Gone). When I'm Still Here (which is named after one of Phoenix's more promising songs) first came out, people still believed that it was a documentary about his descent into madness. In the weeks that followed the movie's slow and limited release, the two actors went on a press tour admitting that it was all a hoax. This made what would've been a really scary, sad but above all, weird documentary about lunacy into a regular movie that was just plain weird. It's one of the most complicated movies I've ever seen. I don't understand why they made it. It's essentially one of the biggest gambles with a person's career I've ever seen in Hollywood. It's not a comedy either. Don't go into this thinking you're gonna see something like Borat or Bruno. This is a fake documentary that's more on the side of drama, but it's drama you don't care about. Not to mention the fact that it's VERY adult. Besides seeing Phoenix do blow, pills and smoke weed (all of which he swears were fake), you see him get oral sex from a hooker, full-frontal male nudity and someone take a dump on his face. None of which is done to be funny, not that it really would be anyway. There are some scenes that are uncomfortably awesome though. After chasing him all around the country for a sit-down, Phoenix eventually meets with Puff Daddy to discuss producing his album. After listening to dismal cuts from it, the situation turns palpable with tension as Phoenix assumes the sale of working together and Diddy tries to let him down without hurting his feelings. Another positive trait of the film is that it's one of the most interesting character studies ever. Again, that doesn't make it good though. The fact that he kept a character going for 18 months during every waking hour is really impressive. In fact it's so impressive that he might be a long shot for a Best Actor nomination. But the movie as a whole is like wearing a shirt that's too small; the film feels uncomfortable and awkward and doesn't make glad you're going through it. If you're really into art films that make you think "what does this mean?" more than movies that you can just sit back and enjoy, you'll probably enjoy this more than I will.
I'm Still Here (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C