Directorial debut for actor Casey Affleck is I’m Still Here, a documentary about his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix as he tries to change his career from actor to rapper. To be placed in the Out of Competition section of the festival program is an honour for first timers as this section is reserved for ‘directors already established in previous editions of the festival’ and therefore one would assume Affleck’s star status had something to do with it. Venice loves the stars.
The film has received mixed responses so far, as Affleck has kept audiences guessing whether the film is part of an elaborate hoax or not. So much of the film concerns Joaquin’s frustration in the public not taking him seriously, that as an audience you want to believe in him and see him succeed. Yet, the rap music he creates is so incredibly bad that speculation is inevitable.
In the beginning we see Joaquin as a child star and then we see him as an adult telling us how much he hates being an actor. He says he longs to create something, and hates being part of someone elses vision, a puppet. We then see him claiming his retirement from acting in interviews and people laughing at him. You begin to feel sorry for the guy, he just wants to rap. Then the film takes a bit of a turn for the crazy and we see Joaquin spiraling out of control of his life- he looks a mess (we see people around the world wearing Joaquin; a bushy beard and sunglasses, he has let himself go), he specializes in public humiliation (wherever he goes there is a cringe worthy scene of him rapping and people laughing) and his friends abandon him ( his personal assistant poos on his face while he sleeps). Things are not good for the dude. Worst of all, hip hop ledge P.Diddy thinks his music sucks- his life is over.
I found the film hard to invest feeling in because I spent most of it thinking that it was a big hoax. However, Joaquin’s goofy stunts were often hilarious, as was his apparent belief in his own talent . Perhaps leaving the audience wondering is the mark of a successful documentary. In any case, all eyes will be on Joaquin to see where his career turns next.