Out-strange Joaquin Phoenix?

12/09/2010 | By

Joaquin Phoenix: Neither here nor there in ‘I’m Still Here’ at TIFF

Heavyweights Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, and Bruce Springsteen, have new films showcased in the Toronto International Film Festival. But I doubt any of them can out-strange Joaquin Phoenix.

The peculiar one is making a splash with "I’m Still Here," the documentary charting his transition from movie actor to rapper to Youtube phenomenon thanks to his bizarre appearance with David Letterman in 2008 (when the bloated-bearded Phoenix looked like Zach Galifianakis meets the Blues Brothers).

The film is directed by Oscar-nominated actor Casey Affleck, who is also married to Phoenix’s sister, Summer.

In "I’m Still Here," Phoenix ponders whether he was always emotional, intense and complicated or became that way to fit a media type. "It’s a chicken and egg thing," he says. As a movie star he loved the moments between "action" and "cut," but everything else was misery.

Phoenix does blow, orders up hookers, berates underlings, hangs with Sean Combs, throws up a lot, raps badly, and generally overdrives the artist-angst bad-behavior highway. The glimpses of him watching the Letterman replay and being the butt of jokes are train-wreck fascinating.

But there’s something else at work in "I’m Still Here."

It’s also a portrait of the tortuous traps of neediness, phoniness, and duplicity that often ensnare celebrities. Tasty irony considering it’s playing in the midst of a festival that will soon max out on red carpet galas, gowns, and glistening stars.

Of course, Phoenix says he’s fed up with all the Hollywood b.s. and sick of making movies. So what does he do? He makes a movie.

Some wonder if his whole hip-hop turn was a hoax and the film is just a hoaxed-up outgrowth of that. Speaking of stunts: Phoenix imposter fever briefly fed the hungry press on Thursday. A press release claimed a faux Phoenix was crashing red carpet events. The problem was, there hadn’t been any yet.

Documentary or mockumentary? You can judge for yourself next Friday when "I’m Still Here" lands at the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights. (Be warned, there are some nasty human waste moments.)