The film is sold as a behind-the-scenes look at the period following Phoenix’s ‘retirement’ from acting and his subsequent attempts to become a hip hop artist. Via a combo of real life clips (that disastrous Letterman appearance, Ben Stiller’s Oscars parody) and grainy personal footage, it charts the scruffy actor formerly known as Johnny Cash’s increasingly desperate attempts mould himself into a musical icon.
There’s bad raps. There’s worse onstage appearances. There’s hookers, cocaine abuse, fights with the public, mockery from fellow celebs, the continual and debasing stalking of Sean Diddy Combs, flaccid cocks aplenty and one of Spacehog shitting on him. And in the middle of this depressing maelstrom there’s a bedraggled lunatic moving from cheap hotel room to cheap hotel room abusing his assistants and himself in equal amounts.
It’s like Entourage told backwards and narrated by Vice, and it makes you feel sorry for him. Or at least it would, if it were in any way real. Because from the very opening scene, which sees Joaquin delivering a monologue and facing away from camera in a hoodie before turning to reveal his face with impeccable timing, it’s clear there’s a highly skilled actor driving the whole thing.
No one actually going through a public meltdown could pull off the performance Phoenix delivers – it’s too real, in our media-saturated definition of the word. And no one, however deranged they’d become, would allow their brother-in-law (Affleck) to film them puking, or ordering girls on the internet to “smell their asses” and let them keep the footage in the movie. And neither would the brother-in-law wish to.
Other clues? Well the “written and directed by Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck” on the credits is a bit of a giveaway. As is the narcissistic last twenty minutes, a really self-indulgent series of shots of the actor not really doing anything that would be edited out of a documentary that wasn’t made by its subject. Diddy’s cameo is wooden enough to give the game away and it seems like the only character that isn’t in on it is that sixtysomething adulterer and purveyor of wartime humour David Letterman.
It’s a brilliant piece of subversive cinema much like Banksy’s recent ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ that’s had the less gullible making comparisons to Kaufman, and I can’t wait until Phoenix appears beardless, fresh and back in the saddle to give us the inside story. Living as the Unabomber for two years and playing this role 24/7 is method acting taken to the extreme. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the pretense will be over by the end of the year.
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Oh, and the best thing about it? His final ‘performance’ in the movie is actually a bit of a tune. Kind of:
Update Friday Sept 17th – Casey Affleck has finally put everyone out of their misery and revealed the whole thing is performance art