Thursday, September 16, 2010
I'm Still Here
I'm Still Here is a beautiful nightmare. In fact, if Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop heralded a new 'prankumentary' subgenre, then I'm Still Here raises it to an art form. But Casey Affleck's directorial debut will definitely divide audiences, not merely along the lines of questioning the veracity* of Joaquin Phoenix's retirement but rather the lengths the 'documentary' goes to take its subject from the sublime to the ridiculous. Sex, shitting and spewing: nothing is sacred in this portrait of repugnant celebrity.
At its simplest, the film plays like a season of Entourage, on acid. As Phoenix makes the rash decision to retire from acting in order to pursue a career in hip hop, he is forever flanked by various assistants, and friends, as well as the man behind the camera (and also often in front of it), his brother-in-law, Affleck. This spectacular fall from grace sees Phoenix go from the clean-shaven darling of the Golden Globes, to the pudgy, bearded, mumbling mess who made that appearance on David Letterman.
Affleck ramps up to the infamous interview in what is an incredibly constructed and artfully conceived film, which at times eerily echoes Gus Van Sant's Death Trilogy (Affleck co-starred in the first film, Gerry). The director plays on his audience's sensibilities like a seasoned puppet master, with Phoenix bumbling around like a loveable — if increasingly unhinged — buffoon, until the laughter all but stops as the consequences of his actions (constructed or not) become sobering indeed.
In crafting this car crash charade, Affleck called on the awkward brilliance of Ben Stiller and the Commander Adama gravitas of Edward James Olmos alongside a surprisingly scene-stealing Sean Combs. And Phoenix himself chain-smokes his way through a riveting, Herculean performance, one that in its infuriatingly meta way will no doubt define his career. Together Affleck and Phoenix have created a staggering work of near-transcendent genius — as explosive a filmmaking debut as (an alleged) celebrity meltdown.
Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date (limited): 16 September 2010
***Update: So Affleck fessed up to the New York Times. The film is a fake, or as he calls it, an attempt at 'gonzo filmmaking'. I wonder why he spilled the beans so soon?