Five Reasons “I’m Still Here” is a Hoax

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There is no way Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck aren't
laughing right now.

Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck looking guilty

In their respective reviews, Roger Ebert and Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman credulously bemoan the sad mental collapse of actor-turned-"rapper" Joaquin Phoenix in the new Casey Affleck "documentary" I'm Still Here. Which apparently means the film's veracity is still up for debate, despite it seeming like an obvious hoax — unless the two reviewers are also part of the hoax, in a truly impressive feat of meta media manipulation. But after viewing the film this past weekend, I'd say the evidence is pretty strong that Ebert and Gleiberman were punk'd. Here are five reasons:

1. Affleck and Phoenix both hail from a cynical, media-savvy generation well-acquainted with put-on artists and line-blurring art, from Andy Kaufman's "wrestling" career (complete with David Letterman flip-out) to Crispin Glover's fence-straddling between mainstream Hollywood and the indie fringes (complete with not one but two David Letterman flip-outs). So it's not like a year-long Borat-style prank about the excesses of fame and the fatuous pomposity of celebrity culture would be unprecedented. (And Phoenix's own Letterman "flip-out" sure did generate a lot of buzz for Affleck's directorial debut!)

2. Not only could Phoenix and Affleck pull off a year-long cinematic prank, but their individual histories suggest they're just the sort who would. Affleck co-starred with Matt Damon in Gus Van Sant's Gerry, a semi-improvised cult film so arty (and deliberately monotonous) that some audience members at its Sundance premiere thought they'd been punk'd. And in "real" life, Phoenix is one of those annoying Method actors who (for example) stayed in character all during the filming of Walk the Line (and made people on the set refer to him as "J.R.," as in "John R. Cash"), only to admit later (to Entertainment Weekly) that he realized his behavior made him seem like "a fucking idiot." In other words, Phoenix had the self-deprecating motive and rich-kid opportunity to pull off a stunt like I'm Still Here, and hilariously squirmy cameos by the likes of wise-ass improvisatory squirm enthusiast Ben Stiller and master media manipulator Sean "Puff P. Diddy Daddy" Combs only strengthen the case that some (if not all) of the film's participants were "in" on the bit.

3. Setting aside questions of whether Affleck (whose brother Ben had substance-abuse problems and became a tabloid punching bag) would exploit real-life drug abuse by his brother-in-law Phoenix (whose own brother River died of a drug overdose), the movie is also way too well structured to be a true documentary. More than one camera is present during "intimate" scenes, important dialogue is never missed, an underwater camera just happens to be on hand at one point when Phoenix goes swimming, etc. Plus, I'm Still Here's most notorious scene (y'know, the one with the poo) has way too much stagy set-up to be entirely believable.

4. But the end credits really say it all: Phoenix and Affleck are both credited as writers on the film, which seems like a pretty clear statement that I'm Still Here was, you know, written, as in pre-conceived. And the heckler Phoenix "attacks" during one of his comically awful rap performances? Also credited (though, tellingly, neither credit appears in the film's current IMDb listing).

5. And, of course, the final proof (which, to be fair, Ebert and Gleiberman may not have seen before writing their reviews) is this image of a slim, beardless Phoenix showing up for I'm Still Here's Venice Film Festival premiere, looking exactly like a wise-ass young movie star who just pulled off a neat little trick on the squares.

As for whether the actor will ever act in more traditional films again (and whether the sexual harassment lawsuits against Affleck are part of the hoax or some nasty real-world karma): the jury's still very much out.