Remember when Michael Jordan decided to play baseball? When Eddie Murphy decided to become a pop star? How about when Garth Brooks became Chris Gaines or when Prince became “formerly known as.” Celebrity mid-life crisis are not new. As the piano man Billy Joel once sang: Everyone goes south every now and then, but where, exactly is Joaquin Phoenix going with the movie I’m Still Here?
Casey Affleck’s film, I’m Still Here, documents Joaquin Phoenix’s life and his 2008 decision to quit acting in favor of a rap career. I’m Still Here opened on the weekend of September 10th at 20 theaters. Due to the small number of venues, the film did not earn much money during its opening weekend. Another possible reason: people aren’t much interested in being taken for fools.
Ever since Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre ranting on Late Night With David Letterman viewers have speculated about Phoenix’s mental state as well as his sincerity. The movie, I‘m Still Here, and Phoenix’s performance, have been heralded as a “recklessly orchestrated hoax” and possibly “long-form performance art.” I‘m Still Here‘s trailer suggests the movie is about transformation and the movie itself seems to take a serious tone. None of the people interacting with Joaquin Phoenix, (Letterman, Sean Combs) appear to be in on any hoax. Still, the critic, Kenneth Turan, of the LA Times, states that a viewer “has the unmistakable feeling that what you are watching is a hoax.” No audience, unless they are included in the joke, wants to pay for that feeling.
Michael Jordan entertained the idea of baseball but returned to his true calling. Eddie Murphy did the same. The artist formerly known as Prince has always been known as eccentric. These figures were not participating in a hoax, they were pushing their personal envelopes. When Garth Brooks planned a movie based on his fictional Chris Gaines character, the idea failed because no one really knew what was going on his head, Gaines’ or Brooks’. So what were Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix thinking? Were they aiming for a hoax? Is I‘m Not Here meant to be a comedy or is it meant as the psychological examination of a breakdown, the kind we are so familiar viewing? All of this truly doesn’t matter. The point, at the end of the day, is whether or not I’m Still Here is entertaining enough to make money. The verdict so far? Not so much.