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I'm Still Here 

Playing (With) Himself: Joaquin Phoenix could have used a better script.

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“I don’t want to play the character of Joaquin,” laments Joaquin Phoenix at the outset of I’m Still Here—and cue the wry laughter from knowing viewers. After all, that’s the big question about this “documentary” directed by Phoenix’s brother-in-law Casey Affleck, and indeed about Phoenix’s entire life since he announced his retirement from acting in 2008, ostensibly to pursue a career as a hip-hop artist: Is it an elaborate Andy Kaufman-esque hoax?

I’m not sure one answer or the other makes I’m Still Here a better movie—though one answer certainly makes Phoenix less of a jerk. Affleck follows Phoenix as he impulsively breaks the news of his career change on a red carpet, then tries to launch his music career by convincing Sean “P. Diddy” Combs to produce his record. And along the way, we watch him become progressively more unhinged and abusive to those around him, all while resembling Zach Galifianakis in a remake of Reservoir Dogs.

It’s hard not to suspect this is all a grand parody of self-absorbed celebrity dilettantism, with scenes of Phoenix in hookers-and-blow revelry before rapping out numbingly banal lyrics about how hard it is to be famous. But that still leaves a lot of time—before and after the footage of his infamous 2009 Late Show with David Letterman appearance—spent with a guy who’s spinning out of control, berating his assistants and assaulting hecklers. Whether Phoenix is a douchebag or a “douchebag,” that makes for some frustratingly one-note cinema.

There are certainly some effective moments, including Combs—who, if he’s in on the joke, plays it perfectly—listening for the first time to Phoenix’s CD, and Edward James Olmos turning into Yoda in his philosophical guidance to Phoenix. But if Phoenix is just playing the character of Joaquin here, he could have used a better script.


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Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs
Not Rated

Scott Renshaw:

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