I’m Still Here (2010) Based on a True Story?

Directed by Casey Affleck, ‘I’m Still Here’ is a 2010 comedy-drama movie that follows actor Joaquin Phoenix through his career change. His announcement regarding his switch from acting to rapping sends shockwaves through the entertainment industry. The movie follows Joaquin for a whole year as he tries to make a name for himself in the field of rap music. If you have watched the film even once or heard about it, we are sure you have some questions regarding the events depicted in the narrative. Many cannot help but wonder exactly what led to the making of this movie- did the things shown on screen actually happen in real life? Well, here are the answers you want.

Is I’m Still Here a True Story?

‘I’m Still Here’ is partially based on a true story. The movie is a mockumentary created by Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck. The idea for the film apparently came from Joaquin’s disbelief that people fully believed that reality shows are as unscripted as they claim to be. Along with his dear friend and then brother-in-law Casey, Joaquin came up with the movie’s concept that focuses on celebrities, the media, the consumers, and the dynamic between them all.

The movie’s production started in 2008 when Joaquin publically announced his retirement from acting; the actor had recently finished the filming of ‘Two Lovers’ at the time. The news broke out during Paul Newman’s charity event on October 27, 2008, for the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps that helps underprivileged children. Joaquin Phoenix announced his apparent retirement on the red carpet to the media, explaining that ‘Two Lovers’ would be his last film ever as he wanted to focus on his music career. Casey backed up Joaquin’s claims and assured everyone that this was not a hoax.

Joaquin’s announcement became the talk of the town in a short amount of time, and several media outlets were astounded by the news, asking the actor if he was being serious. Some even contacted his official representative just in case he was playing a practical joke. However, the latter plainly claimed that Joaquin had told them the same thing. After the actor’s step back from movies became public, Casey started filming him as he went about his daily life and tried to make a name for himself. Moreover, beloved rap star Sean “Diddy” Combs reportedly took up the role of Joaquin’s mentor and manager during the ‘Gladiator‘ star’s foray into the music industry.

As time passed by, Joaquin’s behavior came under massive scrutiny- the public, the media, and even the people within the entertainment industry did not understand what to make of his decision and subsequent transformation. Furthermore, many questioned his decision to throw away a promising acting career for a field in which he did not seem to hold much talent. During the approximately 18-month period between Joaquin’s apparent retirement and the release of ‘I’m Still There,’ he appeared erratic and uncontrollable. The actor was reportedly seen engaging in several fights and other questionable antics that made many people question what the star was up to.

The pièce de résistance of the whole situation occurred during Joaquin’s appearance on ‘Late Show with David Letterman’ in 2009. The actor’s scruffy physical appearance and unexplainable behavior brought his reputation even lower in the public view. In fact, his so-called fall from stardom became so newsworthy that many started imitating and mocking him, including several people from the entertainment industry who took the opportunity to bash his appearance on the late-night show. Not just that, actor Ben Stiller took it a step further and came on the 2009 Academy Awards stage dressed to imitate Joaquin supposedly.

Ben Stiller as Joaquin Phoenix (left) at the 2009 Academy Awards

Naturally, the release of ‘I’m Still Here’ during the Venice Film Festival in 2010 left the viewers and the general public in disbelief. Many wondered if it had been all a lie despite Casey Affleck refusing to label the movie and the depicted events as false. The director instead chose to call it “a piece of performance art,” though that did nothing to quell the shock that the mockumentary left in its wake. The narrative shown in the film is that of Joaquin’s journey of self-discovery and eventual downward spiral. Hence, when it comes to establishing the truth of ‘I’m Still Here,’ several factors should be considered.

While all the events shown in the film take place in real life, it is undeniable that many incidents, like Joaquin’s retirement announcement, were pre-planned. However, the reaction of the public, the media, and the entertainment industry was not something that could have been staged. Both Joaquin and Casey may have expected the type of response that might be generated, but the reactions were genuine, nonetheless. In short, despite the intentional setup by the two friends, several events that take place on-screen are indeed as honest as they could have been.

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