I’m still here – bringing more tears than laughs
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