Directed by Casey Affleck
When Joaquin Phoenix retired from acting in 2008, it came as a shocking announcement. Phoenix was at the top of his game artistically, garnering some of the best reviews of his career for James Gray’s fantastic film Two Lovers.
Phoenix is a bit of an eccentric, and it seemed plausible (despite how terrible he looked during the announcement) that he wanted to give music a try. He is, after all, a Grammy-winning artist, and did a solid job imitating Johnny Cash. Instead of country or folk, however, he chose to enter the world of music as a rapper. His behavior during that time seemed to indicate either that he was headed towards a mental breakdown or that this was the most elaborate hoax ever conceived.
It turns out that this is indeed the latter, and it is a lot of fun to watch. One must suspect that you would have a different reaction seeing it before the news officially broke about it being a hoax. However seeing it in a post-hoax society, the film works. It works primarily because Joaquin Phoenix makes it work.
Phoenix is a brilliant actor, but he outdid himself here. To the untrained eye, he will come off as an egomaniac, but here is where watching interviews and background research on Phoenix as a person pays off. Phoenix’s ego might be the smallest in Hollywood, and that is saying something; this is the same man who pretended to fight with Gray at a Cannes press conference for We Own the Night because Gray referred to him as a great actor. When he won his Golden Globe for Walk the Line, the first thing he says is that he is surprised he even got an award for Best Comedy Actor because he is “not funny.”
The film, however, is extremely funny, especially an appearance from Sean Penn, who has a great cameo at the Paul Newman benefit. However, it’s Phoenix who makes the thing work because he plays it so straight. The second half becomes dark and unnecessary, in a way that could only be satisfying if the film weren’t already confirmed as a hoax. The film is directed by Casey Affleck, and while he has long way to go before being an auteur like his brother Ben (yes Ben Affleck is an auteur now), he shows some promise as a director. It isn’t pretty. but I’m Still Here is a lot of fun.