Oh how I wish I’d gone to see I’m Still Here last weekend like I planned.

The internet is working itself into a minor tizzy now that the cat is out of the bag and Casey Affleck has admitted to the New York Times that nothing in the Joaquin Phoenix doc was real, including the infamous David Letterman appearance though Affleck says Dave himself was not in on it. Correction: THR talked to a Letterman writer who claims the whole thing was scripted.

“It’s a terrific performance, it’s the performance of his career,” says Affleck in the piece.

This all fits with what I’d been assuming/hoping about the film since July. The big surprise here for me is the reaction so far online.

Anne Thompson is irritated:

“This whole thing annoys me. They think it’s hysterically funny. I think it’s a joke on the audience. A prank. Not serious at all. Part of my annoyance comes from the fact that Affleck refused to answer questions and deliberately misled the press in Venice and Toronto. Tell us what the thing is and let us judge it accurately. Don’t prevaricate, then say, “Ha!!” That’s a kid playing games, not a serious filmmaker.”

I think she’s missing the point and also over-estimating the ability of modern journalists to keep their traps shut and play along. I don’t think it was intended as a stunt or a hoax or meant to make anyone look stupid. It was a put-on designed to have an impact and make certain points that would’ve been watered down had it been put over as fiction all along.

Of course I’m speaking in theory because I haven’t seen the film and Thompson has.

The other more disturbing reaction comes from people who seem to think it’s less of a movie because it wasn’t really a celebrity meltdown.

Here’s David Chen in SlashFilm:

“Well, that was fun while it lasted…I’m Still Here, is fake, and not much more than one long, elaborate performance.”

To be fair, Chen is very admiring of Phoenix’s performance but I’m not sure how “one long, elaborate performance” can be brushed off as such an insignificant thing. Certainly a performance is more interesting and thrilling than another extended reality TV episode capturing yet another celebrity bottoming out.

Factoring in the movie itself along with the elaborate Letterman put-ons and the staged rap shows, I think the whole thing is kind of brilliant and I’m stunned by the whining.

True mountain-top water drops would not whine.

18 Responses to “Casey Affleck comes clean on I’m Still Here, Internet pouts”

  1. I made reference to this in one of my tweets to you, Craig, but I can obviously elaborate further here. The negative reactions from those who’ve seen it just reek of a false sense of entitlement. I don’t have that much interest in the movie; even though it’s fake or a put-on or a hoax or whatever you want to call it, I feel like watching it is validating what was a very impressive, intense yet childish prank.

    Obviously, I have no idea what projects Phoenix is offered, but I’m sad that he thinks (rightly or wrongly) that spending, essentially, two years of his life as someone else was worth it.

  2. True mountain-top water drops would not whine.

    LOL-ing forever.

  3. It’s telling that when Sasha Baron Cohen pulls the wool over his subject’s eyes it’s brilliant satire and hilarious fun. When Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes, including the critics, their reaction is harsh and immature.

    Come on.

  4. What I said in the Watercooler is echoed by Affleck here: it is Phoenix’s best acting work to date.

    What’s even funnier in hindsight (and I don’t think this gives anything away now) is that the mountain-top water drop scene with Edward James Olmos was entirely genuine on the part of Olmos. Toward the end of scene Phoenix glances at Affleck and can’t help but make a face like “Can you believe this – you better be getting all of it”. It’s the only time I saw the facade completely drop, which, considering some of the other things that happen, goes to show how committed they were to this.

  5. (Note: I haven’t seen it, either)

    I don’t mind having the proverbial wool pulled over my eyes, but as a commenter on /Film so truly said, “Andy Kaufman, he ain’t”, and I agree.

    IMO, Affleck spilled the beans (I’m quote proverbial today…) all too soon. He should have waited until it was more widely seen.

    Then again, his early interview might have been strategically placed to allow Phoenix a best actor nomination for the Academy Awards next year.

  6. Joseph, do you really think Phoenix or Affleck were trying to match or eclipse Andy Kaufman?

  7. @joel

    I think it’s plausible.

    (A minor point to make, I know, but Kaufman also appeared on Letterman’s show)

  8. I guess for me that’s where the comparison really is, which is fair, but that’s also where it ends. Otherwise I think it’s like comparing Ewan McGregor’s singing in Moulin Rouge to Jason Alexander or Nathan Lane. Not to say either is the epitome of great comedy or great singing, but Ewan McGregor was certainly not working in his wheelhouse when he made Moulin Rouge where as both of the latter are accomplished Broadway stars who’ve specialized in comedy.

    Joaquin Phoenix isn’t Andy Kaufman, but no one else is either. It’s fair to make a comparison because Kaufman pioneered the sort of satire he’s doing, but Kaufman’s entire career was about satire. The crass dismissal in that original /slash comment is really unfair.

  9. @Joseph: I was just disappointed by the original comment you reposted. But I think criticizing his performance is fair, if it was weak. It just feels as though folks are attacking the film because they feel hoodwinked, even though most of them haven’t seen it. Neither have I, so I’m just reacting to the reaction.

  10. Josh: “The negative reactions from those who’ve seen it just reek of a false sense of entitlement.” that part we agree on. With the caveat that I still haven’t seen it, I still don’t think it’s a literal prank, at least not one played on the audience, in the sense that I just don’t see them intending to make the audience look stupid. Some journos maybe feel stupid, but that’s their problem. Whatever ISH is, the notion that journalists should’ve been let in on the joke is kind of absurd on its face, especially when you consider that the media is complicit in the very celebrity freakshow this movie seems to poke at.

    Personally, I’m glad it’s fiction. Like Joseph I think they admitted the fakery too quickly. I wish I’d seen it before finding out. I predict the movie will have a stronger impact if you don’t know for certain that what you’re seeing is real or not and that’s why they felt the need to lie about it.

    I did think of Andy Kaufman with this whole thing. He’s a guy where you could never tell where the man began and the character ended. The longer he went on with it and the more layers he pulled back, the crazier and more genius it became. I don’t expect I’m Still Here reaches that level, but I think that’s the target it’s shooting for.

    If Daniel is right, instead of crying, people should be talking up Phoenix for an Oscar. Seriously. The dude gave over two years of his life for an art project and by all accounts he gave an amazing performance.

  11. Hey, Craig

    Didn’t you called it when it began? I remember you saying “I said it first” LOL But we all knew it, right?

    I mean, I still believe if Phoenix had been called brilliant, he would have kept at it, but since everyone was making fun of him… it’s just a way to turn it around.

    With the right people, Lohan could have said the same thing “teehee, I got you fool.” 3 years ago. With the right people, Britney could’ve said the same thing when shaving her head. LOL

  12. Earlier this summer I said I expected it was a put on, but I had no way of knowing for sure and it wasn’t based on actually having seen the movie. I don’t think I took a big stand though so I can’t claim to be any kind of smartypants.

  13. I absolutely agree that they spoiled it at an odd time. The movie doesn’t make money, so tell everyone what some people kind of thought was true? Weird choice.

    On the one hand, I agree about commending Phoenix for giving two years of his life up for this project. On the other, were the offers Phoenix got for regular, non-performance-art movies that terrible? I feel like he’s screwed up his career for this project and it wasn’t worth it.

  14. It’ll be interesting to see if he bounces back. He went from Oscar nominee, to star of a great-but-underappreciated indie flick to punch line in short order.

    What happens now? I tend to think Hollywood will have a short memory and the next hit or critical darling he’s in and all will be forgotten.

    He doesn’t seem like a career-oriented performer so much.

  15. I just don’t know why Affleck did it so close to the 22nd. I was desperately, desperately hoping Phoenix would break it then by walking out on Letterman, clean shaven and completely normal. Which will probably still happen, but without the same “gotcha” effect.

  16. Yes that would’ve been great!

    Maybe they kind of figured the movie tanked anyway and critics hated it and this way they at least refire interest in the thing.

  17. Doesn’t Letterman shoot some shows really early, though? Frankly, unless I misread it on AV Club’s site, I had read Phoenix filmed his appearance this past Wednesday. Maybe that was part of it–to stop any audience members from ruining the gag?

  18. Yeah Letterman pretapes I think, but I don’t know how far in advance. Perhaps that’s it.

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