It was the ‘special thanks’ to Sean Coombs and Ben Stiller that laid to rest my prevailing questions about the I’m Still Here. Their extended cameos clearly must have been scripted to a degree. Though it opens the gateway for excruciatingly detailed analysis about what proportion of the film was spontaneous and what was concocted in the deep dark depths of Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix’s brains, it almost doesn’t matter.
The truth about the mechanisms behind the film was always going to emerge in due course, so for me the admirably long-haul practical joke is not the key point of the film. What IS interesting though, is the excruciating self-mockery that pervades the movie. Phoenix gets kudos for having the balls to submerse himself into scenes where the movie-Phoenix is utterly cringeworthy; the shot where his burgeoning attempts at hip-hop are met with a despairing grimace from P Diddy springs to mind.
Though he’s playing a character, he’s playing a character that’s far closer to home than perhaps any other in recent years, and to some extent the two are inseparable through his unorthodox antics over the last eighteen months. His acute self-mockery is pretty impressive.
The main surprise in the party bag though, is an unexpected level of sympathy for the plight of Hollywood actors. Clearly the theatrical process of movie-making – with its self-serving sycophantism, the banal conveyor belts of press junkets, and the capricious relationship with one’s ‘public profile’ – is absurd.
When more time is spent parading around like a prize Crufts champion, answering the same dull questions from same dull hacks, than on the business of actually acting, is it any wonder that anyone who takes themselves seriously loses patience with the whole thing?
The infamous ‘weird Letterman interview’, once placed in the context of a deeply unhappy an uncertain period sprinkled with loneliness, drugs, prostitution and rejection, Letterman comes off looking like a complete oaf.
The irony is of course that the movie has managed to get a lot of people talking, and will no doubt fuel endless debate as to whether it’s an avant-garde piece of genius, or just a pointless practical joke. This is despite it only appearing to be on general release in the independent and smaller cinemas. One might suggest that he ran the risk of becoming a bigger ‘star’ than he was previously, with his new-found notoriety for weirdness; backed up somewhat by rumours of another dark-and-wacky-but-still-fairly-mainstream role in an Eastwood film.
I think though, that he may have just gotten what he wanted out of it – some introspective peace and quiet for eighteen months.
I’m Still Here is on at some cinemas around the country.