The question seemingly on everyone's lips going into I'm Still Here is that of the authenticity of Joaquin Phoenix's sudden career change two years ago. Did he really intend to give up a successful acting career to pursue one as a rapping Cat Stevens lookalike? It's a distracting question for the first half hour or so of the film, you're constantly looking for a giveaway sign from all concerned that Phoenix is just having us on. Director Casey Affleck has now come clean on the charade, which leaves us free to look at the film in it's own context, away from the incredibly committed two year publicity machine surrounding it.
Unfortunately though, the tabloid gossip side of the story was ultimately the most interesting. The ongoing soap opera of his supposed breakdown over the past two years told on entertainment news and websites offered a fascinating speculation on both Phoenix as an artist and the public's relationship to celebrity and artistic integrity in general. Crucially though, this drama was delivered and maintained in short bursts, sporadically over two years. Wasn't this context enough? Seeing these clips within the broader context of entertainment journalism in which they originally appeared surely served to heighten their impact and make their point, especially if we're to think their veracity irrelevent, surely we've seen all the best bits so how does providing a new 'behind the scenes' angle to these car-crash media appearances add to their 'modern celebrity' experiment?
It doesn't really. We're left with an over long, intermittently funny picture about a needy Hollywood drama queen in search of integrity. Phoenix undoubtedly gives a comitted performance (perhaps the most dedicated instance of The Method) as an unravelling version of himself, but he's an obnoxious character with which to spend the best part of two hours. It's not helped either by some uncomfortably staged set pieces, in which the likes of P Diddy try to work out just how serious he is, and others that simply stretch believability (his assistant defecating on him whilst he's asleep).
Perhaps aiming for the tone of the likes of Borat and Bruno, where Sacha Baron Cohen would rely as much on those surrounding his character to inadvertently supply the humour by exposing their own prejudices and assumptions, I'm Still Here adopts a similar style to probe the relationship between celebrities and the media, and with 'stars' and the public. It's all a little self-congratulatory though and aside from the final sequence in Panama, offers little visually.
I had a strong sense of déja vu watching this film and whilst featuring some strong scenes (particularly those more quiet and introspective), it mostly labours it's hardly earth shattering observations. Half the audience left before the halfway point at the screening I attended, and it's a shame that the question on my lips coming out of I'm Still Here is whether anyone still cares.
I'm Still Here - 2010 - USA - 111 mins - Dir : Casey Affleck