Toronto Review & Video: Joaquin Phoenix's Doc 'I'm Still Here'
by Alex Billington
September 9, 2010
What the hell did I just see? My second film of the Toronto Film Festival (first was The Town) that I just saw today was the Casey Affleck directed documentary I'm Still Here about Joaquin Phoenix's attempt to become a rapper. The film just hit limited theaters today and also showed in Venice, so there's some good buzz for it already. I will admit that I actually enjoyed this, it was entertaining and it was a fairly fascinating character study, but it's not perfect, and it's not anything more than just a bit of entertainment. And I'm still not even sure if it was all just an act or not, but that's one of the most interesting ideas. Was he just acting?
We all know the story - a few years ago, Oscar nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix decided to
announce claim that he was retiring from acting to pursue a career in hip hop. While we got to see some of his bizarre public appearances, like his rap-performance-gone-awry in Las Vegas and his funky David Letterman appearance, Phoenix and Affleck decide to show us a bit more of the behind-the-scenes of it all, including a taste of what is/was going on in Phoenix's crazy mind. However, it doesn't ever answer the question of why he decided to become a rapper nor does it really address the issue of this all being a hoax, but it does at least show enough to entertain those ideas (and that's about it) as it follows Phoenix's year long journey to become a rapper.
Here's what interests me the most about this doc. If we learn later that it was all an act and Phoenix did just create this wacky character and play it out for over a year, will we eventually look back at this as an amazing performance? The problem is that there is no greater message in I'm Still Here and it's not even anything to be considered "art" in a way that some really fantastic performances can be. But at the same time, I feel like if we learn that this was all a setup, I'll be even more amazed that he did all that he did. It's not anything to be proud of, but I never really thought I was watching him "act" at all (except for one scene with P. Diddy).
If you're intrigued by the wackiness of the whole situation and interested in seeing Joaquin Phoenix lose his mind, then I do suggest seeing this, especially because it's a unique character study that will definitely leave you either dumbfounded or questioning whether this was all a a big hoax or not (for better or maybe worse). To wrap things up, Peter from SlashFilm and Jordan from The Film Stage and I recorded a quick video blog while in the media lounge at TIFF with a quick discussion on the film, which you can check out below.