There are some movies you pick up on DVD to enjoy over and over and then there are those that are intriguing in a different way. I’m Still Here falls into that different category. It’s one that serves as something to be unpacked or unraveled. Now that the word about the film’s giant ruse is out, it’s no longer about trying to figure out whether or not the documentary was real; it’s more of an exploration of how Casey Affleck and his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix managed to dupe just about everyone into believing the fictitious downward spiral of the ex-actor turned aspiring rapper, J.P.
Perhaps it’s just a bit too muddied by the knowledge of his infamous audacious behavior before and after the films’ release, or maybe it’s just hindsight, but Phoenix’s performance grows stale by the middle of the film. To add to his stale performance, the film constantly touts the way in which Affleck and Phoenix managed to fool the media by including a plethora of newsreel clips (including a fake blogger’s retelling of the events) and constant references to hoax accusations. Phoenix’s constant denial of the hoax throughout the film just becomes obnoxious by the time it reaches its pretentious climax. The most watchable bits in the film come when Phoenix encounters friends or colleagues who seem to be ignorant of the ruse – people like Ben Stiller and Sean “Diddy” Combs – and their reactions to his faux-insanity. The commentary reveals whether Combs, Stiller, and others were really privy, and those participants that were just serve to downgrade Phoenix’s performance because a few of them clearly out-act him in the film. Though the concept of playing with the veil of ignorance that separates most of us from the real lives of our Hollywood idols is an ambitious and intriguing endeavor, I’m afraid that Phoenix and Affleck were too impressed with themselves to do the concept justice. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
After sitting through 108 minutes of Casey Affleck’s directorial debut, we’re left with a slew of questions. Why? How? What inspired all of this? Who was in on it and who wasn’t? Weren’t you afraid of what this would do to both of your careers? That’s where the special features come in. Hours of commentary from Affleck and Phoenix as well of many others who were involved, interviews with EXTRA and a professor of Journalism (both of whom were used in the film), deleted scenes and alternate endings attempt to fill in the holes of the giant joke many of us fell for.
Though a few of the deleted scenes are less than interesting (just more of the psycho babble that grew old about 30 minutes into the actual film) and most of Affleck’s commentary speckled throughout the deleted scenes offers little insight, Affleck does manage to explain a few of the deleted scenes and reveal some of the methods used to pull the wool over our eyes – namely who played J.P.’s prostitutes and how far they actually went. Affleck almost seems reluctant to expose his methods but he spills the beans anyway, including the reasoning behind his attempt at an enigmatic ending. Much of the commentary about the feature film reveals which parts were “real” and which were fabricated; which parts were scripted and which parts were real reactions or improvised; who was in on it and who wasn’t; and which places were “sets” and which places were actual locations.
If the concept of Affleck’s film infuriates you, I’d advise that you avoid the commentary because it only cements the way in which the Phoenix boys club willfully toyed with the public’s perception of reality. On the other hand, if the process intrigues you, you’ll find some of the answers you seek if you manage to devote the time to listening to the hours upon hours of commentary and interviews.