REVIEW: If Only Joaquin Phoenix's Lost Year in I'm Still Here Had Stayed Lost
There is one moment of true terror in I'm Still Here, Casey Affleck's dickish, realish account of his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix's "lost year," and it does not involve the whoring, coke-hoovering, excrement-eating or other Jackassery otherwise on copious display.
Near the end of the longest year I've spent in a theater in recent memory -- and after Phoenix's notorious Letterman appearance, an event that is positioned as the culmination of the actor's protracted career suicide -- Phoenix is shown performing in his new guise as a rapper at a Miami club. He barely has the energy to bomb; it's more like a shuffle-y, slurry fizzle. Affleck shoots the scene from the back of the club, so we get a doubled look at the stage: the audience is glued not to Phoenix but the monitors on the cameras they are holding up, like zombies worshipping at their sacrificial altar. A man is falling apart on stage while surrounded by blank faces and eager, feeding cameras: the void staring into the void. Was anybody actually there? And what was I looking at?
John Lennon had a lost year; I believe that's how he referred to 1975. Do you know why we don't have an excruciating video diary to mark each of his ever-deprecating nadirs? Because it was lost. You can read about it in your less reputable biographies, but Lennon himself and most of the people he caroused with never had much to say about it. It was a different time, true, and the interest in vivisecting celebrities was less keen, but Lennon was also quite open about his life. I think he knew -- as all of us do, on some level -- that his floundering into addiction, career uncertainty and infidelity comprised the least interesting year of his life.
Thirty-five years later, this stock chapter in the star narrative has been both privileged and downgraded: Once positioned as an artistic crucible, in the hyper-visual age it is simply fodder for spectacle. It would seem that Affleck and Phoenix decided to give the people exactly what the success of reality and tabloid entertainment shows suggests they want -- total, raging meltdown -- and invited them to kneel down and choke on it. There is certainly nothing remotely personal involved, despite opening footage of Phoenix as a boy, and even a brief shot of his big brother River, whose tragic self-destruction he was witness to and seems to be painfully pantomiming here.
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