Early Buzz: Casey Affleck's Joaquin Phoenix Documentary 'I'm Still Here' [Venice Reviews]

I'm Still Here, Casey Affleck's controversial 'documentary' about his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix has finally premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The early reviews are in, and I've compiled some excerpts for you after the jump.Variety: "Result is an utterly fascinating experiment that apparently blends real and faked material to examine notions of celebrity, mental stability and friendship. Whatever auds may think of Phoenix, there's no doubting his chutzpah, though biz will depend on the level of voyeuristic interest in his and co-helmer Casey Affleck's strange, postmodern psychodrama." ... "I'm Still Here" could be read as a more meta version of the filmmaking method deployed by Sacha Baron Cohen in "Borat" and "Bruno." Except that there might be something more tragic, troubling and weird going on here." ... "Auds won't be able to stop themselves from wondering who was in on the joke (if it was a joke) and who wasn't."InContention: "The most surprising discovery about "I'm Still Here" is that the possibility of it being a ruse doesn't much diminish its value. Indeed, the film is probably more interesting viewed as an immensely committed, avant-garde performance piece by Phoenix ("career suicide as conceptual art," to quote one critic I spoke to after the screening) than as an ingenuous documentary – in which case, for all Affleck's claims of wishing to offer a compassionate study of his friend, the film is a rather narrow, and even exploitative, work. In either light, Affleck has crafted a ragged but grimly compelling essay on our vile celebrity-news culture, in which the aggressors aren't only the bottom-feeding journalists who delight in stories such as this one, but the celebrities – of whom Phoenix may well be one – who are spurred on by their attention." ... "I'm not convinced that "I'm Still Here" is entirely smart or meta enough to be exempt from this tail-eating circle, but it's inarguably a film of its era: should it find its way into a time capsule, future viewers will learn a lot more about us from watching it than they will about Joaquin Phoenix."ScreenDaily:  "Too wryly tongue-in-cheek to cut the mustard as a sincere and intimate portrait of a tortured talent undergoing a creative crisis." ... "The result is a film that is occasionally fascinating and sometimes quite funny, but more often too smugly and frustratingly pleased with its own mindgames. To do a Borat, I'm Still Here would need to come out of the 'it's all true' closet; to be the "compassionate portrait" that Affleck was still insisting it was at the film's post-premiere Venice presser, it would need to slam that closet door a lot more firmly than it does."Independent: "Affleck is a disarming filmmaker. This seems like straight fly-on-the-wall reportage from the battle zone that is Phoenix's life. However, I'm Still Here is cleverly crafted and edited and often very funny indeed. If it is a hoax, Phoenix is giving one of the greatest method performances of all time."  ... "Like its central character, the film is infuriating and provocative by turns." ... "The ridicule that is heaped on him arguably reveals just as much about celebrity-obsessed popular culture as it does about Phoenix himself. The film ends on a mildly redemptive but still mysterious note."Guardian: "I'm not sure I buy any of it, but the film is certainly compelling. Like a pair of po-faced co-conspirators, Affleck and Phoenix have cooked up an audacious little distraction; a stage-managed Hollywood Babylon that's at once gaudily entertaining and wilfully self-indulgent." ... "Who cares, finally, whether this is a documentary or not? I'm Still Here paints a convincing portrait of a miserable, frustrated actor who has lived so long in the goldfish bowl that he can no longer conceive of a life beyond acting."Obsessed With Film: "At times the film is also rather too exaggerated to be completely legitimate. Coming close to resembling Borat." ... "Elements of the film seem a bit too convenient, for instance there are multiple cameras with all the angles covered, leaving it sometimes feeling like a Christopher Guest or Larry Charles faux documentary rather than the real thing. And the film adheres to elements of film-fiction structure (things mentioned always have a plot functionality and are usually a set up for something later)." ... "There is no question, it is edited together for maximum humorous (as opposed to dramatic) impact, in a way that would be odd if Affleck has any love for his friend. There are even bits that feel straight out of a candid camera show" ...  "Whether it's down to a genuine absurdity or to a dedicated genius performer (he's kept this act up for two years now), I'm Still Here is really funny. I was in stitches for long spells of it and had the best time I've had in any film here."

The official synopsis for the film:

"I'm Still Here" follows Oscar-nominee Joaquin Phoenix as he announces his retirement from a successful film career in the fall of 2008 and sets off to reinvent himself as a hip hop musician.

Watch the trailer here.