Was it a stunt? Or wasn’t it? That was the buzz after Joaquin Phoenix’s odd appearance on David Letterman’s late night television show in 2008. Well, as it turns out: it was a stunt. Phoenix teamed up with his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, to make I’m Still Here a documentary — make that a so-called mockumentary — about Phoenix giving up his highly successful acting career to become a rapper. In case you were wondering, it should go without saying that he’s not a very good rapper.
The film starts off with Phoenix’s announcement of retirement from acting to pursue rapping as he dabbles in his garage-based home studio and chases Sean “P. Diddy”/”Diddy”/”Puff Daddy”/”Puffy” Combs up and down the eastern seaboard in an attempt to secure a meeting. But, predictably, as Phoenix sees little positive response to his hip hop dreams the tensions rise.
Affleck does a good job at the helm of the film. All of the standard reality film patterns are there, such as shooting them talking at a distance and the honest interviews interspersed. “You’re really going to film me riding in a car?” Phoenix asks at one point. Yes, yes he is. And there’s enough full-frontal male nudity it’s amazing that the uptight ratings board of recent memory only gave them an R rating.
Similarly, Phoenix’s dedication, if you can call it that, to the “character” is never-ending and rather impressive. The only time he borders on losing it is during the Letterman interview. Otherwise, he’s completely enveloped in the ranting, pretentious, chain-smoking, drug-taking, hooker-partying, beer-bellied, rapping, overly intense cartoony characterization of himself.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of I’m Still Here is that the joke just goes on a little too long. Half-way through the film it’s easy to feel it should already be wrapping up. But, in fact, it’s only just getting started. While certainly not laugh out loud funny, I’m Still Here is humorous at times and an admittedly interesting commentary on celebrity.