The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

I’m still here – bringing more tears than laughs

with 19 comments

Ouch.

That was my initial reaction as I did a quick research to find out what other people had made of I’m still here.

The hosts of one of my favourite podcasts, Filmspotting, made a 25 minute long rant about how much they hated it, saying that they would have walked out of it if it, but that they didn’t in the end because it would have been to let the makers of it win.

They weren’t the only ones. There were rotten tomatoes flying from all directions and I didn’t hear a single voice vouching in the favour of it.

But that will change now, because here I am – one of the, as I assume, very few people who think that this movie had a point and that it’s actually pretty good.

A fake documentary
Here’s a quick recap, in case you haven’t seen or heard of it:

I’m still here is a documentary where we get to follow the actor Joaquin Phoenix, who one day says that he’s done with acting and wants to pursuit a career as a rap artist. This doesn’t go very well and we see him degenerating physically and mentally, abusing drugs, using prostitutes and behaving like an ass towards anyone around him including his closest assistants. We also see how this is reflected in media, including a famous appearance in David Letterman’s show.

At the time the film was launched, there were still some doubts about if his transformation in the film had been for real or if it all was an elaborate hoax and the film was a mockumentary. By now Phoenix has returned to his acting career and there is no doubt that this was a fake. And I think this is one of the reasons why it’s been so hated.

Not funny but sad
Most people seem to have realized that it was a hoax at an early stage, and this raised some kind of expectation that it should be funny in a Borat way. But it wasn’t. With the exception of the Letterman show incident, it isn’t funny at all. I felt more like crying than laughing as I watched it.

I’m still here is a very dark film about the backside of celebrity, exploring the sense of imprisonment that comes with the job. Even if you have a luxury house, even if you’re invited to parties with the rich and famous, even if you drive a fancy car and can travel to places that normally people only dream of, you can be miserable and drained.

I didn’t see a movie about a crazy actor who tried to rap and failed miserably at it. I saw a film about a man desperately fighting to get out of a bubble he is caught in, sick and tired of playing Joaquin Phoenix. And the only way out seems to go be through a complete breakdown. It’s not until he has stripped himself of every ounce of dignity, pushing away everyone who ever has loved him that he can get back to an existence in the real world.

Companion to Somewhere
This film has been compared to Exit through the Gift Shop, since it’s a fake documentary about someone in show business. But I think it has a lot more in common with Sophia Coppola’s Somewhere from the same year. Stephen Dorff’s character left everything and walked out to the desert; Joaquin Phoenix plunges into a swamp. They’re both on the run away from a monster that is eating them, from the inside and the outside at the same time.

Between the two of them, I prefer Somewhere. It’s always a bit of a problem to a movie when the main character is genuinely dislikeable and you detest everything he makes and stands for. Phoenix does absolutely nothing that makes you sympathize with him, while Dorff’s character has the father-daughter relationship that makes him more human. The film is also rather long at almost two hours and there are stretches that are plain boring. Maybe it’s intentional and an equivalent to the starting scene in Somewhere where you see a car driving in same circle for several minutes. You’re supposed to feel the ennui right under your skin. But there’s too much of it and I think you easily could shave away at least half an hour without losing anything at all.

Get me right here: I’m still here is not one of my favourite movies and I don’t care to see it ever again. But I don’t agree with those who say that it was a cynical joke at the expense of the audience. I think it was a seriously meant effort to say something about existential angst from the perspective of a celebrity.

Judging from how few that got it, it seems to have missed the target though.

I’m still here (Casey Affleck, US, 2010) My rating: 3,5/5

Written by Jessica

July 5, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in I'm still here

19 Responses

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  1. I was very conflicted with this movie. A part of me enjoyed it, as I always have liked Joaquin Phoenix, but another part of me just made me think it was incredibly pretentious. I saw it after it was announced that the movie was staged, so a part of me was always tearing it apart, noticing every little scene that was set up and what not.

    Good review, nonetheless lol.

    Nick Powell

    July 5, 2012 at 1:42 am

    • Thanks!
      I feel the conflict too. If I wanted to I could absolutely write a rant about spoiled movie actors who are wasting our time with self pitying nonsens. I always watch movies though with my very best intentions, trying to find the gold in them, and as opposed to most other viewers I thought I could spot some in this one too, even though it was well hidden under all that hairgrowth.

      Jessica

      July 5, 2012 at 7:35 am

  2. See I dunno, a 3.5 score intrigues me but your review makes me not want to watch this… Shall i?

    • I don’t know honestly. So many people seem to hate this film and you might be one of the haters. I don’t want you to get mad at me if you do :). The Letterman scene IS hilarious, but that’s available at Youtube anyway.

      I’ve got a persona interest for the bizarr world that those people live in and above all the symbiosis they live in with media. The scenes where fans try to “like” the horrible rapping gave me shivers. What is this fake world really about? You wonder sometimes.

      There are also scenes that are incredibly disgusting. The degeneration has gone far. That’s all I say.

      But again: if you want to see something very… different… you might want to try it out. Just don’t blame me afterwards. 🙂

      Jessica

      July 5, 2012 at 10:19 am

  3. It’s a movie I didn’t enjoy at all and really had a hard time finishing it. I also didn’t like Somehwere, which you also mention. I do see the similarities between them.

    Nostra

    July 5, 2012 at 11:18 am

  4. I always liked the idea of this but the naysayers were so vehement in hatred for it that I decided to avoid for a while. I’ll still gives go someday though. Nice review as always.

    Mark Walker

    July 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    • Thanks Mark. I don’t blame you for shying away from it considering the response. I didn’t know how hated it was until after I had seen it. If you will decide to give it a chance one day in the future, you’ll at least have an additional perspective to judge it from.

      Jessica

      July 5, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      • Yeah, think we spoke before about Exit Through the Gift Shop. I really liked that and also took that from the perspective of a hoax. It throws up some interesting questions about the nature of art and public perception.

        Mark Walker

        July 5, 2012 at 12:36 pm

        • I absolutely adore Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s one of the funniest, and most thought provoking movies I’ve seen over the last year. I knew nothing about it before watching it and it took me completely by surprise. That one is in a different class than this one.

          Jessica

          July 5, 2012 at 12:39 pm

  5. I have a hard time not thinking that there must be better ways to deal with your existential angst than make a movie where you bare it all. Had Phoenix been truly dedicated to the fake documentary thing it would have been a more bold choice to become a beureaucrat at the IRS for a year or so. Since he didn’t, it comes out as more of a self-therapeutic thing (as you comment) than an experiment.

    Sofia

    July 6, 2012 at 11:30 am

    • I guess he goes to a shrink like all other Hollywood stars so I suppose we shouldn’t feel too sorry for him…
      The question is if this outlet for his existential angst is interesting to someone else but him. To me it was, but apparently not to most viewers.

      Jessica

      July 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm

  6. I knew it was a hoax when I saw him on Letterman. He almost cracked up once. If the movie is still on Netflix, I’d watch it. The thing that I don’t like, though, is that I think it almost bankrupted Casey Affleck. At least I remember reading that he funded pretty much the whole thing and it tanked HARD, really hurting his finances. Other than that, I’m all for seeing it.

    • Ouch. That’s sad to hear. Yes, I threw a glance at IMDB to see how it had made at the box office and I didn’t believe my eyes, but then I thought: “perhaps it’s just old data and it made better than that”. But alas – not. 😦

      Jessica

      July 8, 2012 at 10:51 am

  7. Great post, Jess! I’m interested in this one, being a fan of Phoenix and Affleck. Nice to see him coming back with the upcoming The Master.

    fernandorafael

    July 9, 2012 at 6:10 am

  8. Definitely more tragedy than comedy Jessica, but I did get the impression that Phoenix and Affleck constructed one big in-joke to expose the media. Most of them seemed to buy it too. Letterman was a classic example of being entirely rude and unprofessional. We don’t really get much of his show in Scotland but from what I’ve seen, he can be a bit like this. Can’t say I’m all that keen on the man, though. For all he knew, Phoenix could have seriously been struggling.

    Mark Walker

    July 18, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    • Yes, it’s not without some humouristic strokes, but I think one of the reasons why it was so bashed was that people went to it with the wrong expectations. That scene at Letterman was pretty wonderful. It’s amazing it happened for real.

      Jessica

      July 18, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      • That’s true! I do agree that some people expected a different film. Personally, I was very impressed with its construction and thought Phoenix was outstanding. He must have been exhausted keeping up face. Some scenes were too laborious, though, and others completely uncalled for.

        Mark Walker

        July 18, 2013 at 8:48 pm

        • Yeah, it felt a little long for sure. They could have cut 20-30 minutes and it would only have gained from it.

          Jessica

          July 18, 2013 at 8:50 pm


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