Movie Review: I’m Still Here

As a silly, throwaway comedy it works fine. But a missed opportunity none-the-less

Given you’re reading this respected music website, and not, chances are you may be unaware of the late, professional wrestler Brian Pillman and his mid-90’s ‘Loose Cannon’ persona. Well done you, what’s the real world like? I’ve heard it’s brilliant. Who’s Prime Minister now? That bloody Berlin Wall, eh? When’s the new Michael Jackson record out?

Anyhow, allow me to fill in the gaps.

In 1995, with the cooperation of savvy management, perennial mid-card wrestler Brian Pillman worked an angle in which he faked being fired by one company to go work for another. To do this he actively pretended to be bonkers and repeatedly threatened to pull his penis out and “piss all over the fans” on the rival companies television show. Wrestling fans largely believed Pillman had really been fired; even if they didn’t they enjoyed the drama.

The thinking was that when he came back to the original promotion he’d be such a hot, extremely notorious commodity he’d make a whole load more money for his paymasters than he had done previously (that he actually ended up being headhunted by yet another company, then dying of a heart condition in a Minnesota motel room aged 35 barely matters – it was a hoot while it lasted).

Watching I’m Still Here, I couldn’t help but think of the genius execution of the wrestling angle outlined above.

Given that director Casey Affleck has now come out and admitted the film – in which Walk The Line actor Joaquin Phoenix is followed for a year, right from the point he announces his retirement from acting, to him deciding he wants to be a hip-hop artist, right through to a very public, very beardy breakdown on the David Letterman show – is a Spinal Tap style mockumentary and not a legitimate tale, it goes without saying that any conversation about the films authenticity is pointless.

But I also can’t help thinking that a significant reason to watch it has been lost due too (with baffling timing, Affleck pulled back the curtain this Thursday passed, the eve of the film’s release).

Now, despite being the sort of gullible idiot who is repeatedly duped into believing that Paul Daniels has snuffed it when those last night of music festivals rumors start going around, unlike the majority of Americas entertainment commentators, I long believed that I’m Still Here was a way to raise the profiles of those involved and not a documentary. That’s fine, it’s a good idea, I wish more modern day filmmaker’s thought outside the box.

But to admit it’s a hoax while most of its audience are queuing up to buy popcorn? Suspension of reality can be a wonderful thing. It’s like magic tricks. I know that when Debbie McGee is sawed in half by Paul its all being done with smoke and mirrors, but if someone told me that before the saw came out I’m not sure how much motivation I would have to watch the trick. Hope is important. I love a good disemboweling, me.

As a mockumentary, I’m Still Here is an enjoyable, if a slightly try hard comedy romp. It’s certainly a giggle. Any film that features a member of Spacehog doing a shit on someone in their sleep is alright with me. Not only that, but if I put my fingernails on my chin and start rigorously scratching, I might even concede that it’s an interesting comment on the vapid nature of modern celebrity.

But that’s all it is. Like walking past Alex Reid in the street and not shouting “UMBAGUMBABUMBA” really loudly in an attempt to freak him out and make his brain explode, that feels like a wasted opportunity to me.

Wrestling fans or not, my feeling is that Affleck, Phoenix and co intended I’m Still Here to be a ‘Loose Cannon’ style stunt that backfired when they realized upon screening the film that nobody really believed the actor was really turning his back on cinema and embracing rapping. I dunno. Maybe they could have made a film a little bit more subtle than one which features a member of Spacehog doing a shit on someone in their sleep.

Yet given very few people in the 90’s believed that Brian Pillman was really faking his insanity, and taking into consideration that a large proportion of people who follow professional wrestling are so stupid they believe that unicorns actually exist, I’d say this was a failing of the execution of the film, if not the original idea.

As a comedy I’m Still Here works fine. But go watch Dude, Where’s My Car? instead. It’s funnier and it doesn’t lie to you.

James McMahon