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In 2008 while rehearsing for a charity event, actor Joaquin Phoenix, with Casey Affleck's camera watching, tells people he's quitting to pursue a career in rap music. Over the next year, we watch the actor write, rehearse, and perform to an audience. He importunes Sean Combs in hopes he'll produce the record. We see the actor in his home: he parties, smokes, bawls out his two-man entourage, talks philosophy with Affleck, and comments on celebrity. Written by
When Phoenix first meets Diddy in the hotel, he knocks on the door on the right side of the hall, then the camera switches and Diddy is opening the door on the left side of the hall. It can't just be a change in camera angle since the door is the last one on the hall. See more »
Edward James Olmos:
That's you, drops of water and you're on top of the mountain of success. But one day you start sliding down the mountain and you think wait a minute; I'm a mountain top water drop. I don't belong in this valley, this river, this low dark ocean with all these drops of water. Then one day it gets hot and you slowly evaporate into air, way up, higher than any mountain top, all the way to the heavens. Then you understand that it was at your lowest that you were closest to God. Life's a journey that...
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This is brilliant work. I don't understand all the derision.
Somehow, I feel like one of the only people who thinks this movie is absolutely genius and incredibly funny. Many leading critics seem to have missed the fact that this is a ruse. Reading in the NYT yesterday that Casey Affleck admitted it was not "reality" probably aided my ability to view the movie the way I did, but I am surprised that so many people have a negative reaction to what Affleck and Phoenix present and couldn't see the bigger picture even before the revelation was made. I am looking forward to J.P's appearance on Letterman next week, when I believe we will learn a lot more about their motivation in its production. In the meantime, however, I think a few things can be said that will not prove to be altogether ignorant on my part.
First, this a movie made by professional actors. This is not Casey Affleck following a Joaquin Phoenix lacking self-awareness around with a camera because they have nothing better to do. It is a deliberate effort to create, and they are both collaborating. That should give everyone a good starting point. It is a real movie with thoughtful development, not the work of pedestrian journalists. With that in mind, it is easy to see just how much fun it would have been to make.
The primary "conflict" in the movie is Joaquin's discomfort with the pressures on him and the risks he is taking in the face of so many expectations to keep producing the kinds of movies that won him accolades. The viewer who thinks the film is true life will believe he is throwing away a great movie career because he is the typical tragic celebrity who has it all, can't recognize it, is under chemical influence, and has no one around who cares enough to intervene. There are far too many clues to let that impression control throughout the film.
When J.P. delivers monologues about how he's putting it all on the line, what we should understand is that the fake J.P. is talking about his hip-hop dream, while the real J.P. is acknowledging the risk he is taking by staying out of glossy big-budget blockbusters he had at his fingertips after Walk the Line. Keep in mind: he had to be this character for almost two whole years in order to make anyone bother to watch the movie. When you stack this kind of dedication up against a stupid movie about the drama behind Facebook, the farce of Jersey Shore, another crime movie set in Boston, and all the other garbage out there, I'm Still Here stands out as cutting-edge performance.
Comparisons are easily made to works of Sacha Baron Cohen and Christopher Guest. The primary difference is the real-world gambit of Phoenix and the manipulation of the media, expanding the stage of performance beyond the theaters. And the audience isn't spoon-fed the humor. Yeah, they probably ticked off a lot of suited business people who wanted Phoenix to be predictable and stay in bounds, but the very point of the movie was that the Hollywood system is a fenced-in joke of a society and very easy to toy with. Of course, the sad truth is that so many fine performers have indeed self-destructed in similar fashion. Perhaps that is why people are uncomfortable with the movie; because it is plausible. But if J.P. can deceive so many so easily, it is all the more a masterpiece.
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