Romy Shiller

I’m Still Here

In Film, review on August 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made – George Burns

Director: Casey Affleck

Writers: Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck and Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Comb

Yikes! This is by far the weirdest and darkest mockumentary I have ever seen. Talk about method-acting. Holy.

Plot: So, for those not in the know, the mockumentary follows Joaquin Phoenix after he admits he is giving up acting to be a rap artist – one with unkempt beard, hair and clothes, a beer belly and a striking resemblance to Vincent Gallo. He gives an absolutely fantastic performance; the short temper, the melancholy moments and the general craziness are all played with astonishing naturalness. Affleck has called it the performance of his career and he has a good point – it is definitely one of his best, if only for the fact that it is a performance that had to spill out, off the screen and into ‘real’ life, like on his infamous Letterman appearance and whenever he rapped live. (

I still cannot believe that the hoax isn’t really a cover-up for a breakdown. When I saw it I believed it was real. I wanted it to be over. What a mess I thought and I felt like a voyeur. It was seedy: defecation, hookers, cocaine.

I’m Still Here was confirmed as a hoax back in September, by director (and brother-in-law) of Joaquin Phoenix – Casey Affleck. Strange timing to do the reveal, perhaps, even with his explanation; “I never intended to trick anybody. The idea of a quote, hoax, unquote, never entered my mind” – a comment that is hard to believe at first, but on reflection, maybe not?” (

Oh, I don’t know. If it is a hoax, it is the best acting I have ever seen. I once wrote an article about Reality TV and found this; Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia says; “Reality television is a genre of television programming that presents purportedly unscripted dramatic or humorous situations, documents actual events, and usually features ordinary people instead of professional actors.Although the genre has existed in some form or another since the early years of television, the term reality television is most commonly used to describe programs of this genre produced since 2000.” (

I am going to talk about this film as if it were ‘real’ otherwise it would be too confusing.

The film follows a life unraveling, it is the disintegration of celebrity. Casey Affleck is given much access – maybe this should have been a clue. If I saw a family member in distress wouldn’t I stop filming and help?

The access that Affleck had was remarkable, candid and extremely revealing. Phoenix’s passion and despair were captured. His desire to be a rap star was palpable. His being mocked on Letterman made me cringe. He regretted doing the show.

Phoenix had a huge ego and had a ‘yes-man’ who was his enabler. His unruly beard and weight-gain pointed to a life out of control. Colleagues were road-kill and his life felt fragile. The shift from well-mannered and well-dressed celebrity to his state in the film is substantial.

Okay, a documentary ‘feel’ was there.  There were seemingly unscripted events. There were impromptu moments and meetings with celebrities such as P. Diddy and Ben Stiller. Of course the prostitutes, cocaine and defecation were very frank. Phoenix’s ‘yes-man’ defecates on him while Phoenix is sleeping after a falling-out. There were behind the scene aspects like on Letterman and the rap show. Great editing and very good cinematography.

The film starts off and ends with a home-movie (real?) that shows him leaping off of a cliff into water as a young boy. The metaphor is clear. Phoenix continues to leap into the unknown.

A review I read says, “…in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Whether the story is true or not (a debate that is sure to rage for a long time after this), the film nonetheless presents a story — about a man searching for his true identity in the often fake world of celebrity — that is as gripping and moving as any indie or drama movie that I’ve seen in recent years. Spend as much time as you like trying to discern the reality of it all, but if you do you’ll miss the real show.” (

In retrospect, this film made an impact on me. Yes, I wanted it to be over because I found it devastating. I truly wonder if Joaquin Phoenix’s career can recover from this. Maybe, he was too real. Is that possible?

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.

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