By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood September 9, 2010 at 6:59AM
It shouldn't need an introduction by now (Variety calls it the "most publicly prominent piece of performance art ever"), but The Playlist provides a useful Idiot's Guide To I'm Still Here (which premiered at Venice and opens Friday) in the intro the their own review: "The 'is this a joke' aspect of the entire affair was perhaps best typified on the much-watched bizarro appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman where the celebrity mumbled meekly throughout and the talk show host mocked Phoenix for barely being mentally present. I'm Still Here is a document of that lost-in-the-wilderness period directed by Phoenix's brother-in-law Casey Affleck in his feature-length debut."
The film is ripe for criticism - surely one of its goals - and has either entertained, perplexed or disgusted critics so far. Reviews, Phoenix's notorious Letterman appearance and the trailer are on the jump. TOH's review is here.
Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly thinks that Affleck's failure to attempt an intervention is "an ethical lapse";
"Yet the film's unflinching honesty is, in the end, its own justification. Affleck uses Phoenix's descent to forge a riveting — and, in its way, cautionary — case study of a celebrity self-destructively addicted to his own psychodrama. Phoenix may say that he's left acting behind, but whether he's trolling the Internet for hookers, [or] trying (hilariously) to convince Diddy to produce his rap album…the movie understands that his Last Honest Man in Showbiz routine is really a performance — even if it's one the actor himself is only dimly aware of. The real hoax is the one that Phoenix has perpetrated on himself. It's the illusion (to quote one of his bad hip-hop songs) that he's a ''compli-f---in'-cated'' rebel rather than just another vain burnout who needs help."
NY Magazine's David Edelstein wonders how "anyone with half a brain" is deceived by this "hoax" - a term he thinks is not apt:
"I prefer the word “act"…Phoenix’s metamorphosis looks less like a scam than a go-for-broke art project, an outlandish psychodrama with a nucleus of truth…I’m Still Here does offer the more traditional mockumentary hilarity, like hearing Phoenix rhyme 'Joaquin' with 'tear out my spleen'…We rewatch almost the whole of his jaw-dropping turn on the Late Show, which David Letterman concluded by saying, “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.” But Joaquin was, of course, very much there."
Roger Ebert is a somewhat sympathetic believer (see below), though he admits "I'm going to be seriously pissed" if it is in fact a hoax, which he suspects; "there are subtle signs it might be. The scene in Central Park: Is it a little too perfect dramatically?"
"A mind is a terrible thing to waste. The tragedy of Joaquin Phoenix's self-destruction has been made into "I'm Still Here," a sad and painful documentary that serves little useful purpose other than to pound another nail into the coffin. Here is a gifted actor who apparently by his own decision has brought desolation upon his head. He was serious when he said he would never act again. He was serious when he announced a career as a hip hop artist. He wasn't goofing when he was on the Letterman show. He was flying into pieces."
Leslie Felperin at Variety calls it possibly the "most publicly prominent piece of performance art ever," concluding that it is a mix of truth and hoax;
"an utterly fascinating experiment that apparently blends real and faked material to examine notions of celebrity, mental stability and friendship. Whatever auds may think of Phoenix, there's no doubting his chutzpah, though biz will depend on the level of voyeuristic interest in his and co-helmer Casey Affleck's strange, postmodern psychodrama."
Michael Phillips seems reluctant to even give the film the time of day, saying he "genuinely hated this picture" despite his admiration for Phoenix's earlier theatrical work (i.e. Walk the Line, Gladiator);
"Much of I'm Still Here, which felt like the slow-motion Inception universe's idea of 107 minutes, is taken up with Phoenix's attempts to get Sean Combs on board as album producer. Taken as a drug-addled, nicotine and invective-stained travelogue, the film lurches from Hollywood to New York to Miami, as Phoenix reckons with his own rapper's limitations, his own outsize yet terrifyingly fragile ego, his own perpetual on-camera performance. It's 'meta,' you see. It's a video document of a man no longer interested in acting (though he speaks briefly of the occasional payoffs between the words 'action' and 'cut') who nonetheless may be acting every second, playing not a devil/angel version of himself, but a devil/worse devil."
Joaquin Phoenix on Letterman: