Unfortunately, before seeing this film, I was predisposed of the knowledge that I'm Still Here, the "documentary" directed by Casey Affleck and starring Joaquin Phoenix, was indeed a performance. So I didn't have a chance to revel in the confusion and discussions (with myself) after witnessing the film. But then again, most people probably didn't anyway. That's not to say I wasn't fooled by Phoenix's crazy antics, from the notorious Letterman appearance to his newfound "career" in hip-hop. Watching I'm Still Here is very similar to the experience of watching films such as Borat or Bruno, films that can make the audience twinge in their seats at the ridiculous situations these actors will put themselves into, just to make people (eventually) laugh. The difference is, I realized, that not only were the people on screen oblivious to to Phoenix's antics, but so were we, at least at one point. I'm not ashamed, because let's face it, we've all seen worse. However this effects the viewing experience is debatable, but I sure had a blast watching Phoenix publicly drive his career to the ground for the sake of filming a semi-fictional documentary. However, the film differentiates from most "mockumentaries" in many ways.
Even though it is claimed to be an act, it is often hard to tell at some points if Phoenix really is acting or not. Although it is all act, Phoenix really did make drastic changes to his life to make the film work. He really made crappy music to show to the world and grew an unattractive beard and beer belly, so one can't help but wonder how this has affected Phoenix's mind and sanity during his performance, or even to this day. Debates aside, the film is generally hilarious, and mostly in an awkward Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm-sort of way. The film kicks off with Phoenix announcing his retirement from acting to begin a rapping career, and most of the film centers around Phoenix attempting to get the world to take this puzzling new career seriously. So of course, he turns to P. Diddy to produce his record. Again, it is debatable whether Diddy was in on it the entire time as well, but the confrontations between the two are hysterical, regardless. After many extremely awkward conversations and encounters, Diddy finally listens to Phoenix's horrible music, and Diddy's face when this is unleashed upon his ears is absolutely priceless. There are several other situations like this with various other celebrities, one in particular with Ben Stiller that is probably one of the best moments of the movie.
The exact purpose of the film is questionable, but Affleck claims in an interview with Roger Ebert that the movie did not have a specific direction and was mostly improvised, but it was more of an observation of the merciless media, and how unforgiving it can be (I recommend clicking the link and reading the entire article, as it is an interesting read). Most people already know the media is a nasty and soulless monster, but it is still an interesting experiment nonetheless. It is hard to decide however, who wins in the end. It has been half a year since the film was announced has a performance, and Phoenix still has yet to be signed on for another role (although this could just be due to a much deserved break). Hopefully, studios aren't feeling skeptical about going anywhere near Phoenix, because he probably put on one of the best, and yet most under-appreciated performances of the year. If you're a fan of mockumentaries, or just Larry David-style comedy, then definitely check this one out.