Toronto add I’m Still Here

17/08/2010 | By

Sensibly added! Times confirmed 24th August 2010.

The directorial debut of Oscar-nominated actor Casey Affleck, I’m Still Here is a portrayal of a tumultuous year in the life of internationally acclaimed actor Joaquin Phoenix. With remarkable access, I’m Still Here follows the Oscar-nominee as he announces his retirement from a successful film career in the fall of 2008 and sets off to reinvent himself as a hip hop musician. The film is a portrait of an artist at a crossroads. Defying expectations, it deftly explores notions of courage and creative reinvention, as well as the ramifications of a life spent in the public eye.

What happened to Joaquin Phoenix? How did the seemingly shy, intense actor go from young heartthrob to two-time Academy Award® nominee to pop culture mystery? Was it a breakdown? A retreat? A hoax? It’s a testament to our accelerated culture that both the Joaquin Phoenix story and its interpretations jostled for attention as Phoenix transformed himself before our eyes. As ubiquitous as he was – appearing famously on Late Night with David Letterman and testing his rap skills at a series of live performances that went viral on the internet – Phoenix became more and more enigmatic for his fans. No one had close enough access to get an accurate look at what was really happening in the world of the increasingly unpredictable actor. No one but Casey Affleck.

A celebrated actor himself, Affleck also happens to be Phoenix’s brother-in-law and friend. He had the perfect vantage point, but what does it mean for a friend and brother-in-law to pick up a a camera and chronicle your every move? I’m Still Here offers fascinating insights, not just into Phoenix, but also into the relationship between these two famous men.

At the height of his fame the movie star declares, “I don’t want to play the character of Joaquin anymore…. My artistic output up to now has been fucking fraudulent.” And so begins his hip hop career. Affleck crafts this part of the Phoenix story with heart and sensitivity. Although the scenes of the actor trying to woo P. Diddy to produce his album are loaded with comic potential, Affleck shades the awkward humour with an appreciation of Phoenix’s sincere ambition.

But as Phoenix pours his soul into spitting rhymes, his world begins to spiral downwards. Affleck’s camera is there to witness all manner of celebrity debauchery: drugs, alcohol, groupie sex and the casual abuse of assistants. In one near-magical scene, the actor Edward James Olmos attempts to stage a kind of intervention.

I’m Still Here is completely engrossing, but it provides few answers. What happened to Joaquin Phoenix? Hard to say. It’s still happening.

Cameron Bailey