Film Review Of I’m Still Here

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Casey Affleck’s  I’m Still Here is a perplexing piece of modern motion picture history. I say history because this just might be a first. Not even Borat with its pseudo-documentary style captivated moviegoers with such unshakeable impact. This film had us all believing that what we were witnessing on screen was in fact real. That’s because the film I’m Still Here was pitched, produced, filmed and shown worldwide as a documentary when in fact it wasn’t. Or was?

Plot Arc

A famous Hollywood actor will act no more and wants only to pursue his dream of becoming a rap music artist.

The Caper

Until last year (2010)- everyone in the films star Joaquin Phoenix’ life from David Letterman, Ben Stiller and rap artist-producer Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs believed that Phoenix was going critical mass and turning his life away from cinema for good.

Joaquin’s story starts out like a voyeur’s dream come true. The camera follows him everywhere. Nothing seems set up or imagined. There isn’t much humor in this film unless you enjoy seeing a man seemingly self–implode and wreak havoc around insular members of his posse. (I laughed more than once.) Or, unless you like the idea of David Letterman interviewing Joaquin and failing miserably in front of millions of live viewers.  (I laughed more than once.)

How about watching Joaquin stalk Puff Daddy with his demo CD only to be told “we ain’t working together”. Whatever hidden meanings are to be found, this is a dark, dark film that impacts so forcefully because the film aptly directed by Casey Affleck, is peeling away the layers of Phoenix’ psyche. To an unsuspecting viewer it might all be real and that is worth considering. The power of reinforced expectations. If this fake documentary can seem so believably real, we need to question everything that we see and read.

No One Is Safe From The Brute Force Of Introspection

Joaquin’s best friend appears as loyal manservant and tragically flawed aspiring musician who feeds Joaquin’s desires and takes a bastion of abuse (you’ll have to see it to believe it). The story revolves and evolves around these types of  dysfunctional connections and we are meant to endure it all.

Before watching I did not fully comprehend the impact that the media and an expectant audience can have on a celebrity. Joaquin is mocked and misunderstood. After a filmed rejection by Phoenix and perhaps believing Joaquin’s behavior to be real,  Ben Stiller wears a long hair wig, unruly beard and glasses for an Academy Award night schlock presentation. Hey, wasn’t that Steven Spielberg in the audience belly laughing along?

So this movie’s effect is profound. It’s a bag of emotional extremism, sympathy, repulsion, sorrow, and a dash of joy. But there are never  enough positives to really help us feel good while trying to understand the point of it all. And even if Joaquin manages to discard his former celebrity actor self and transform we wonder if he will be any happier as a rap artist. He seems like he’s incapable of happiness, unless of course it’s all an act.

Is the film only a statement on the impact that the established media has on all of our lives, not just a celebrity? Does it suggest that we take inventory of our expectations and our blind trust in media? Should we question what we think, see and believe? Watch this film and find out for yourself. For the Silo, Jarrod Barker.

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