By Jason Menard
The truth has come out and, as many expected, Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre behaviour over the past two years was nothing more than a piece of performance art for a mockumentary filmed by his long-time friend, and brother-in-law, Casey Affleck.
This revelation was prompted by less-than-stellar reviews of the film, I’m Still Here. It seems that audiences and critics alike haven’t been getting it — at least not the way the filmmakers intended — so Affleck has felt the need to explain the duo’s intentions behind making it.
Affleck has undertaken a press blitz to drum up support and interest in the film. He’s gone so far as to invoke the name Hunter S. Thompson and his history of Gonzo journalism.
The problem is, the fantasy world created in I’m Still Here suffers from the reality of today’s celebrity world. After all, crazy behaviour is the norm in Hollywood and Phoenix’s behaviour, while bizarre, isn’t exactly out of the ordinary any more.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen the film and I’ve only paid a passing interest in Phoenix’s behaviour over the past two years. Yes, I’ve seen the infamous Letterman interview and I’ve been aware of some of his behaviour — the rapping, the raucous behaviour, the allegations of drug use — but I didn’t really care too much because I figured it was a hoax. The fact that Affleck was following him around with a camera, ostensibly to film his burgeoning rap career, was a bit of a giveaway.
The thing is, Phoenix’s activities didn’t get the mass-media attention that I believe they were intended to fuel. After all, we’ve seen it all before. There was little intrigue because we were all so apathetic.
Joaquin has had to compete with the Lindsey Lohans, the Britney Spearses, and the Speidis of today’s celebrity news world. Anything he did, we’ve seen before. Public meltdowns? Paging Martin Lawrence. Odd, non-sensible behaviour and rambling speech? Take your pick. From Anne Heche going to heaven in a space ship to anything Mel Gibson has done (or allegedly done) over the past couple of years, there’s no shortage of celebrities going off script. Boorish drunken behaviour? Well, where do I start? There’s the aforementioned Mr. Gibson, The Hoff’s infamous hamburger video, and Joe Namath’s lascivious slurring with Suzy Kolber in front of millions of football fans.
Phoenix? No matter what he scripted, it couldn’t compare to the steady stream of arrests, quote-unquote forgotten panties, and Jersey Shore-esque mentality that feeds so much of the celebrity media like TMZ and blogs like WWTDD.
Stature is another issue. Unfortunately, we don’t measure our celebrities by the depth of their talent. I like Joaquin. I think he’s an amazing actor and if he was able to stay in character for the better part of two years, then he should be recognized for his efforts and talent. But he’s not a big enough star to create the buzz that he intended.
He was always one of those actors that does amazing work, then disappears until the next film. He didn’t capture the imagination of fans and viewers in a way that would sell copies of Star Magazine or People. Even the tie to his brother River’s drug-fuelled death outside of the Viper Club wasn’t enough to propel Joaquin into the cultural zeitgeist during this two-year foray.
Tom Cruise jumps on a few couches and acts generally odd and he’s all over the tabloids. It’s all about star power and despite having far more acting chops than Cruise, Phoenix’s star burns with a few thousand less watts overall.
In the end, Affleck and Phoenix’s film suffers from an old adage with which we’re all familiar — truth is stranger than fiction. After all, nothing Phoenix could have done on film would ever exceed what we see on a daily basis.
So Phoenix is still here. Great. Unfortunately, not too many people cared that he was gone — and the potential for a fascinating social experiment was lost.