When Casey Affleck finally revealed that his Joaquin Phoenix documentary I'm Still Here was a put-on, the admission was mostly met with shrugs and rolled eyes (none of which did much for the film's middling box office). Roger Ebert, however, seems energized by the hoax; the film critic was duped by the film in his original review, but since Affleck's admission, he's become a near-evangelist for it: "Based on what he said," Ebert wrote today, "I'm Still Here must be considered a fiction feature, and Phoenix's work in it must be considered eligible for an Academy Award nomination." Certainly! It's just too bad that in e-mails exchanged by Ebert and Affleck, the filmmaker still can't really explain why he made the movie.
"There are ideas in the film that are interesting to me. I don't have a point to make, though. If it feels like a cautionary tale, what would be the warning? When you have a dream and others tell you, you are no good, give it up? Don't become famous? Prepare, practice and use stepping stones? Or maybe don't be incredibly mean to those around you? Some things seems too obvious, some seem lacking. I don't know the point. I only know that it is of course in some way about celebrity culture. Its about fame, in some way. I don't know what it says exactly but I know that it makes me wonder when I watch it. I'm OK with that."
Trenchant! Of course, I'm Still Here's lampooning of celebrity culture wouldn't dare lampoon actual celebrities (all of whom were in on the joke), and instead, Affleck saves his scattershot ire for the news media he continually tried to provoke into a reaction — one he now tut-tuts:
"There were those willing to lampoon him publicly, who when asked to give an interview for the film said, "I don't want to give you an interview because I don't know what's going on with Joaquin and if he's having real psychological problems or problems with addiction I don't know what to say." Yet they felt comfortable mocking him on national TV. I am NOT talking about Ben Stiller and Natalie Portman who both knew that Joaquin was fine and both knew about the film."
There is one Hollywood figure who comes in for criticism, though: Director James Gray, who complained that his film Two Lovers — billed at the time as Phoenix's final performance — was hurt by the actor's ruse.
"James just wanted people to see his movie. Magnolia released that as well as my movie and I don't think a whole lot of people would have seen it if Joaquin didn't have a beard and hadn't told people he was retiring. But maybe I'm wrong."
Maybe: After all, Two Lovers has grossed $3,149,034 to I'm Still Here's $259,290.
Casey Affleck levels about "I'm Still Here" [Roger Ebert/Sun-Times]