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“I’m Still Here,” Reviewed

“I’m Still Here,” Reviewed (photo)

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Casey Affleck wants us to believe his documentary about actor Joaquin Phoenix’s retirement is real. For his sake, I hope he’s lying.

If “I’m Still Here” is real, then that means Affleck saw Phoenix, his brother-in-law, throwing away his career, his sobriety, and his maybe his sanity and decided to pick up a camera and get it all on film rather than stage an intervention. Instead of helping him heal in private he’s aired his ugliest behavior in front of the entire world. In other words, if “I’m Still Here” is the genuine article, Affleck might be the worst brother-in-law in history.

But while he may not win any awards for responsible familial behavior, he deserves at least a little credit for his filmmaking skills. With his first feature as a director, Affleck has made one of the most convincing and interesting movie pranks ever (that is, if he didn’t make one of the most exploitative and morally questionable documentaries ever). For the moment, let’s assume the former.

In that case, “I’m Still Here” is the “War of the Worlds” of actor meltdown movies. Its execution is so flawless and its internal logic is so strong, that we need the end credits to tell us that the film is not what it claims to be. It’s an interesting film to watch and an even more interesting film to discuss (for that reason, do not go see this movie alone). Since watching “I’m Still Here” on Tuesday I’ve had more conversations about it, about what it is and what it means, than any film this year except “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

Like “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “I’m Still Here” is equal parts chronicle of and joke on the intersection of art and celebrity in our society. The facts of the movie are already well-known because they all took place on television. In 2008, Phoenix, sick of “playing the character of Joaquin” in the media (a clue, perhaps?) suddenly announced his retirement from acting and began performing as a hip hop artist. He played a nightclub in Vegas and fell off the stage. He showed up for an interview on Letterman and acted confused and possibly high.

How did we go from the man who starred in “Two Lovers,” a world-class thespian delivering an heart-wrenching performance, to the man who promoted “Two Lovers,” a sloppy, rambling weirdo who makes subway hobos look eloquent in comparison? Phoenix’s documentary fills in the gaps. When he wasn’t insisting he was done with Hollywood, Phoenix was scouring the Internet for hookers, snorting coke off their breasts, belittling his assistants, or practically stalking P. Diddy to try to convince him to produce his album.

Did Phoenix really think he had a future as a rapper? Did he ambush Diddy “Borat”-style or was Sean Combs in on the joke the whole time? I personally believe the truth of “I’m Still Here” lies somewhere in the murk between the two extremes of documentary and fiction. Though Phoenix and Affleck are the film’s credited writers, and some of the parts appear to have been filled by actors, Phoenix looks too legitimately high at times to be acting. Compare him stumbling around, puffing on a joint and doing cocaine to someone like Nicolas Cage in “Bad Lieutenant.” If Phoenix is acting in some of these scenes, he is giving one the greatest and most fearless performances of all time.

But the fact that Phoenix may be legitimately high doesn’t automatically make this a documentary either. Phoenix is a great actor; he’s also one of our craziest. How do we know he wouldn’t get genuinely stoned on camera for the sake of verisimilitude in a fiction film? I’m still not sure. And that ambuiguity is the point.

In 2010, reality and fiction are not only indistinguishable in popular culture, the difference between them is essentially irrelevant. Millions of people tune in every week to watch “Jersey Shore,” never questioning how much of the show is staged for the cameras, or written by writers, or massaged in the editing room. Whether Phoenix was high on Letterman or whether he was pretending to be high, the resultant impact on his career was the same. Whether he’s a terrible rapper or a performance artist aping the affectations of a terrible rapper, his audience wasn’t interested in parsing the difference. They just wanted to see the freak show and get a video of it on their cell phones.

If “I’m Still Here” is real, even in some small way, it is a freak show. Some of Phoenix’s antics are funny, at least until you remember the possibility that he’s not joking. On the other hand, maybe he was joking all along but nobody got the joke, and now he has to suffer the consequences. If Phoenix is as screwed up as he looks in this film, then Affleck owes his brother-in-law an apology (he might also need to explain himself to his wife, Joaquin’s sister Summer, who does not appear in the film). If it’s not then it is one hell of a hoax. This movie has to be seen to be simultaneously believed and disbelieved.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.