Directed by Casey Affleck, I'm Still Here purports to document Joaquin Phoenix's high-profile "retirement" from acting, his alleged attempt to transition into a hip-hop career, and his much-publicized meltdown. At the outset of the film, Phoenix describes his acting career as a "self-imposed prison," claiming frustration with his lack of creative control and resentment over his obligation to maintain his celebrity persona. And so, after participating in a charity event, Phoenix gives a red-carpet reporter the "exclusive" news that this will be his last night as an actor—and proceeds to implode in a flurry of drugs, shitty rapping, and bizarre public appearances. Was this all staged? The end credits more or less confirm I'm Still Here to be, if not a traditional work of fiction, then at least primarily a performance produced for cameras. But knowing that it was more invented than accidental raises more questions than it answers. In other words, the question of whether or not Phoenix and Affleck are fucking with us is easily settled; it's much harder to determine why they're fucking with us. And are they even fucking with us—the average viewer—or are they fucking with their fellow celebrities, who stand to feel the force of the less-than-flattering aspects of themselves in Phoenix's portrayal? At once deeply felt and devastatingly cynical, I'm Still Here's bone-dry satire is an apparent attack on the Hollywood machine, but it's so insidery, so vicious, that to the everyday consumer, it's just not clear why this stunt needs to exist.
Phoenix never drops his furry mask.
Opens at Harvard Exit, Fri., Sept. 10. Rated R. 108 minutes.