Review: Joaquin Phoenix's 'I'm Still Here' Still Shocks, Despite Years of Hype
Common adage suggests that when one door closes, another one opens. For actor turned hip-hop musician Joaquin Phoenix, however, it's more like he willingly closed one door only to have another slammed in his face.
The aptly-titled documentary "I'm Still Here," which opens today (Sept. 10), portrays this transition in Phoenix's life with shocking details. The film is the directorial debut of actor and screenwriter Casey Affleck, whose level of access to Phoenix's shambolic life is unprecedented compared with that of other celebrity documentarians. Affleck, who is Phoenix's brother-in-law, captures not only his ups and downs but plenty of sex with hookers and cocaine usage, too.
The film's lewdest moments, such as when Phoenix's assistant (and former Spacehog guitarist) Antony Langdon defecates on the actor's face, are not its most compelling. Rather, Phoenix's often one-sided interactions with hip-hop impresario Diddy are the highlight. To see a star so rejected and vulnerable is a rarity in our celeb-praising world, where fame and fortune is often linked to success and approval.
Phoenix, whose acting credits include his Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated role as Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line," reached out to Diddy as a possible producer for his debut hip-hop album. A rep from Diddy's Bad Boy Entertainment mediated the request, first having Phoenix fly to New York to meet with the hip-hop mogul.
After a week of waiting, Phoenix, who at one point in "I'm Still Here" tells rapper Mos Def that he's aiming for a "hip-hop 'Bohemian Rhapsody'" sound, is told he will have a meeting with Diddy if he flies to Miami. Phoenix jumps on a plane and finally meets with Diddy, who questions Phoenix's monetary support for his musical project.
The two meet up later in an L.A. recording studio, at which point Phoenix thinks they will be recording an album. "You're not ready to record with me," Diddy, after stomaching several tracks on his demo, tells a distraught Phoenix.
Although Phoenix originally intended to release his album between late 2008 and early 2009, it hasn't yet surfaced. But perhaps Diddy is a collaborator on the project after all. In May, he told MTV, "We went into the studio, did a record, mixed a record and everything."
The eye-opening "I'm Still Here" will gain Phoenix -- the musician, not the actor -- fans if he finally does release his hip-hop debut. Whether they take his music seriously, however, is another story.