Joaquin Phoenix delivers one of his best performances playing a twisted version of himself in the might be / might not be real docu-drama, I’m Still Here.
From Marlon Brando to Gary Oldman, tortured actors have prowled the screen with equal parts brilliance and insanity. Brooding thespian Joaquin Phoenix is as talented and tortured as they come, so it was a sad day when he said goodbye to acting and began a career as a hip hop artist.
Or did he? That is the question which haunts I’m Still Here, a documentary (?) which chronicles Phoenix’s abrupt career change, and had many wondering if it's real or a hoax.
But to hell with motives, it is what’s on screen that counts, and whether career destroyer or artistic triumph, I’m Still Here works as a self reflection of Phoenix’s celebrity, artistry, and inability to love himself.
It begins with Phoenix spouting his professed hatred for the acting process and the song & dance that comes with it. Music is the way to artistic freedom, he declares, and it’s through hip hop where he has found liberty.
The problem is the deluded Phoenix is terrible, yet no one is willing to admit it. His assistants sure as hell won’t. They’re too terrified to say boo in case of a fit from the temperamental JP (of which he prefers to be called).
To state that what Spinal Tap was the heavy metal is what JP is to hip-hop would be fair. A scene shared with P. Diddy (or Sean Combs, or....whatever) features the rap Czar confronting Phoenix with the question: is this rap thing a joke?
Maybe it is, but there is no denying the sincerity put towards this film as an artistic endeavour, Phoenix delving headfirst into some sort of docu-method performance, metamorphosing into a bearded, bloated mess of a man.
Capturing the train wreck is director Casey Affleck, who does a great job crafting Phoenix’s volatile mood swings and egocentricities into a funny & poignant film about a man constantly questioning his self worth.
The tragedy is the position which Phoenix finds himself. Acting, of which he is brilliant, represents death. Music, of which he is appalling, is the only thing which gives him life.
Real or not, that he survived it all is a miracle. If suffering is strength, then consider Phoenix stronger, wiser, and hopefully cleansed of whatever demons haunted his soul.