I’m Still Here – DVD Review

I’m not sure where to start exactly with this film. Firstly, I assume everyone by now realizes that, as a whole, this documentary is fake. However, that doesn’t do it justice to just dismiss it as fake. Watching the movie you have to be impressed with the entirety of Phoenix’s portrayal of this lost version of himself. Part performance art, part guy who snorts coke off hooker boobs, and part real frustration. It was not an entirely faked persona, but I do think it was intentional.

Documentaries are hard to review. Documentaries seem better suited for discussion. I’m Still Here is not a documentary. It is, in effect, a fiction movie. However, being so anchored in the real world and by bringing real people into the film it is able to make poignant and relevant statements on society, as documentaries usually do best. One point that came across to me was the tremendous gap between celebrities and the vast majority of people. While this is in no way a revelation that celebrities don’t live like us, it is jarring to see this gap from a less glamorous angle than we are used to. Celebrities like Phoenix are so removed from day to day society and the mores and codes associated with it that it isn’t surprising that so many celebrities seem to be bat shit insane. Early in the film, Phoenix brings up the chicken and the egg analogy to discuss himself. And I think it can be broadened to celebrity as a whole in this instance. Do the press and society merely react to and report on celebrities or are they creating these people to begin with? It’s a bizarre and confusing issue that this movie captures well I think.

Another thing I thought was worth mentioning was the moment in the film where they show Ben Stiller impersonating and mocking Phoenix at the Oscars. The crowd roared with laughter as Stiller basically did exactly what Phoenix had been doing for months. (Side note: I’m fully convinced Stiller was doing this at the behest of Affleck and Phoenix so I’m not implying he’s the idiot here.. although he did make Little Fockers so he is an idiot… just not in this particular instance) After Ben Stiller’s impression, the movie shows about 100 or more people impersonating, mocking, explaining Phoenix all on the screen at once to give a sense of the magnitude of the reaction. As I’m watching all these people in fake beards on webcams or whatever else with lame puns or jokes, I’m thinking, Why are they only laughing now? This is the entire thing Phoenix is doing, it has all been a joke but since he didn’t preface it with, “Knock, knock” or something, no one knew it was a joke and didn’t laugh. I think it speaks to the ridiculous ‘follow the leader’ game that our popular culture is. There are so few originals; people won’t laugh at Phoenix’s joke but they’ll laugh at someone else dressing up like Phoenix and doing the same routine. Too few people would take the time to examine or interpret Phoenix for themselves. I don’t think that point is unintentionally made.

There’s some really interesting points about our culture and the notion of celebrity made in this movie and that alone makes it worth watching. It runs about 15 minutes too long, maybe 20. The first two thirds of the film spends too much time on sort of mundane scheduling details of Phoenix’s rap career which slows the film down because the success of his rap album is not the point of the film. The most memorable scenes for me were just the extended shots of the contemplative Phoenix. Those scenes said a lot more than the scattershot early part of the film. The film could be tightened up a bit as it doesn’t seem to have a focus or a coherence for the first part, and it seems all the best moments are in the last thirty or so minutes.

So watch this one. It’s not terribly funny. Not a documentary. Not always totally engaging. But it does have some interesting things to say and should make you think just a little about forming your own opinion and chasing that seemingly lost notion of self-actualization.

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