I'm Still Here (15), Casey Affleck, 108 mins

Starring Joaquin Phoenix

Watching Casey Affleck's I'm Still Here, you're faced with two possibilities (or at least you were until three days ago when Affleck came clean about the true nature of his film). One possibility was that the film was a documentary, in which case, it would be a disturbing one – not to say intrusive and exploitative. Affleck has turned his camera on his fellow actor – and brother-in-law – Joaquin Phoenix, at a critical moment. Acclaimed for his starring roles, Phoenix decides he's had enough – of acting, of fame, of shaving – and tells the world, from behind a wild thicket of beard, that he's leaving cinema to become a rapper.

Phoenix seems to be undergoing a breakdown, as becomes apparent in a notorious chat-show appearance. Shambling and monosyllabic, he becomes the butt of David Letterman's one-liners: "Joaquin, I'm sorry you couldn't be here tonight." It's a sorry story, and Affleck captures every pitiful moment, from Phoenix's earnest attempts to impress rap mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs to his nervous backstage vomiting. Affleck goes where few directors would have the nerve to, and where no normal brother-in-law would have the decency to.



Well, that was one reading of I'm Still Here, if you chose to buy it. The other possibility, however, was that the film was a put-up job, recording and perpetuating an elaborate performance project that Phoenix has apparently been committed to for something like two years.



There are certainly points where pretence and reality intersect. Phoenix, it's clear, genuinely is sick of the acting treadmill, and sufficiently weary of playing the matinée idol to let his physique go to seed: shirt off, he carries a Brando-esque layer of flab. But as for rapping, he's really taking the piss. His self-pitying lamentations, delivered in stumblebum monotone, are at best borderline-competent, although not so inept that they instantly reveal themselves as parody.



Allegedly peeling back the Hollywood façade, Affleck shows us the life of a pampered star as, supposedly, it really is. We see Phoenix insulting his assistants, nuzzling a hooker's breasts, laying out cocaine while barking, "Who's the nigger in charge here?" He raps in clubs, barely able to finish one number without throwing a strop. The star's attempts to meet Diddy, with a view to collaboration, make for excruciating pathos. When he finally gets an audience in the producer's studio, Combs coolly shreds Phoenix's hopes.



However, the showbiz gossip circuit quickly sniffs the possibility that Phoenix is pulling a hoax, and that very suspicion is built into the film. The star takes tearful umbrage on being accused of fakery, then turns viciously on his assistant Antony, accusing him of spreading rumours. Eventually, even this faithful yes man has enough and takes his revenge, in the film's most scabrous joke.



There are plenty of clues to what's really happening – including the credit "Written and produced by Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix". Many scenes have a manifestly staged look – notably those featuring Ben Stiller, who drops by to offer Phoenix the best-buddy role in his own latest film. All in all, this mock-vérité comedy of Tinseltown folly suggests a rap-inflected answer to Larry David – a sort of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Muthafucka. Phoenix's often horrifying antics also recall the daredevil public-baiting stunts of the late comedian Andy Kaufman. This is career suicide as performance art.



Phoenix may have comprehensively dismantled his star aura, but he hasn't done himself any harm as a performer. Watched in this context, the Letterman appearance comes across as acting of the highest calibre, Phoenix's zombie impassivity never cracking for a moment. In the scenes with Combs especially, Phoenix is uncomfortably funny: his "Joaquin" character is a self-indulgent boor, but likeably vulnerable too.



It's a good performance, if one-dimensional. But in the end, you wonder what Project Phoenix actually reveals, other than that stars are infantile, fame lets you get away with murder, and the media machine is gullible. With or without the subsequent revelation, Phoenix comes across as a privileged prince. Look – he seems to be saying – I'm so compelling that I can make myself a monster with impunity.



Without doubt, the world of celebrity needs to be demystified, to break our rapt obsession. But when that world is criticised from within, there's inevitably a taint of poor-little-rich-kid pleading. The film's coda certainly plumps for lonely-at-the-top pathos. At the start of I'm Still Here, we see a video clip of a child jumping into a Panama waterfall – apparently Phoenix's primal "Rosebud" moment. At the end, the adult Joaquin returns to Panama to share a silent beer with his dad. It's a poignant scene – except that Phoenix Snr, the credits reveal, is played by Tim Affleck, the director's father.



In the end, Phoenix's cleverest trick may have been to reveal nothing whatsoever about his real self. When three days ago Casey Affleck confessed to The New York Times that his film was indeed bogus through and through, it transpired that even the Panama waterfall clip was faked. As for who was in on the deceit, David Letterman wasn't; Phoenix's Hollywood agent was. Still, who knows how Hollywood will respond? Perhaps Phoenix really has destroyed his career. Time will tell. Meanwhile, it's a pretty safe bet that we won't hear him rapping again any time soon.

Also showing...

The Kid (100 mins, 15)

Following Nick Moran's effervescent directorial debut, Telstar, this stodgy adaptation of Kevin Lewis's misery memoir is a disappointment. It's the well-meaning but cliché-ridden story of an abused suburban boy who grows up to be a bare-knuckle boxer (Rupert Friend).

The Horde (90 mins, 18)

A French police squad has to team up with the gangsters it's hunting in order to escape from a rundown tower block infested by bloodthirsty cannibals. Yes, it's yet another zombie film, but it's one of the better ones, thanks to the visceral fight scenes, and a heroine who could take on Lara Croft and Ripley at the same time.

Just Wright (101 mins, PG)

Cinderella romance starring a bubbly Queen Latifah as a physiotherapist who is always cold-shouldered in favour of her beautiful best friend (Paula Patton). Yes, it's utterly predictable – but very sweet.

F (175 mins, 18)

Dull British horror film in which hoodies bump off the teachers and janitors working late in a school one evening.



Next week



Jonathan Romney gazes deep into Enter the Void, the latest delirium from provocateur Gaspar Noé

I'm Still Here is the subject of this week's Culture Club. Have you seen the film, and, if so, what did you think? Was Joaquin's sacrifice worth it? Leave your thoughts and comments below

Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower