'I'm Still Here': The Joaquin Phoenix debate continues

A documentary on the movie star's decision to become a rapper has premiered in Europe, and critics are (still) wondering whether or not it's a hoax

Is Joaquin Phoenix's movie I'm Still Here a hoax, or a real documentary of his life?
(Image credit: Getty)

I'm Still Here, the documentary charting Joaquin Phoenix's change of careers from Hollywood A-lister to bearded, semi-coherent hip-hop wannabe, has premiered at the Venice Film Festival. (Watch trailer below.) Although the film has long been suspected of being a hoax, director Casey Affleck still insists that it is a straight depiction of Phoenix's life, from his breakdown on "The Late Show with David Letterman" to his fumbling attempts at entering the rap game. Now that they've finally seen the film, what are critics saying?

Seems pretty authentic to me: If this is a Borat-style hoax, says Richard Corliss at Time, it's "the most minimalist put-on of all time." Phoenix has not worked on any project, "as either an actor or a rapper," since this film completed shooting in March 2009. His "recent emotional whereabouts" remain unknown, too. "Not even [Borat creator Sacha] Baron Cohen would dare to create a character he keeps in hiding for a year and a half."

"I'm Still Here: Joaquin Phoenix takes the rap"

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You can almost smell the fakery: I'm sorry, says David Jenkins at Time Out London, but this film "feels entirely manufactured." Cameos from the likes of Sean "P.Diddy" Combs and Ben Stiller appear to have been scripted, and some of the fly-on-the-wall footage looks "meticulously set up." The argument will go on, but as far as I'm concerned I'm Still Here "looks too much like a ruse for a debate to be worthwhile."

"I'm Still Here"

Real or not, it doesn't matter: It probably is faked, says Xan Brooks at the Guardian, but that doesn't "necessarily make it any less authentic." I'm Still Here's portrait of a "miserable frustrated actor" is entirely convincing. No matter how "stage-managed" it is, this is a "gaudily entertaining and wilfully self-indulgent" movie, with a very prescient theme. "Who cares, finally, whether this is a documentary or not?"

"I'm Still Here"

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