When two-times Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix announced that he was giving up acting to pursue his dream of becoming a hip-hop artist, many were bemused.
They will continue being so after watching this mightily peculiar quasi-documentary, directed by brother-in-law Casey Affleck, which purports to chart Phoenix's disastrous career switch and very public humiliation. It involves a ludicrous appearance on the David Letterman's show, one of two very droll sequences, the other being the facial expression of Sean "Puffy" Combs on hearing the demo that Phoenix hopes will encourage him to produce his hip-hop album: let's just say it's not a rapper's delight. Rabbinically bearded and tubby of girth, Phoenix himself cuts an ever more unstable and paranoid figure, most notably in his drug consumption, his hiring of call-girls and the foul-mouthed abuse he screams at his coterie of "friends" – who seem little more than paid-up stooges. What's going on? Is this a cautionary tale? A suicide note? A backfiring chronicle of celebrity breakdown? And the more you think about that, the more likely seems the possibility that it's all a put-on, a mischievous conceptual squib designed to arouse our pity, then to mock us for being taken in. Whichever way you slice it, you'd have to say it's more exasperating than exhilarating. Scene by scene it's slow going, particularly when you keep asking yourself if any of it is "true". It's one thing to pull off a hoax; it's quite another to transform the fakery into authentic entertainment.