Man Who Ate Himself

Re-experience Robert De Niro‘s jailhouse wailing and wall-punching scene in Raging Bull. And then imagine a followup moment in which Joe Pesci’s Joey sneaks into Jake La Motta’s hotel room as he’s sleeping, and then climbs onto the bed, drops his pants and takes a dump on his brother’s face. And then Jake leaps up and beats the crap out of Joey and runs into the bathroom to clean his face off, going “Eeoohhwww! I can’t take this! Eeooohhww!”

I’ve just described the essence of Casey Affleck‘s I’m Not Here (Magnolia, 9.10), the Joaquin Phoenix meltdown doc which screened this afternoon at the Toronto Film Festival.

The face-shitting scene actually happens (Pheonix really seems to take it in the face — his fired assistant Anton is the squatter), and De Niro’s Miami Dade jailhouse scene is matched when Pheonix jumps out of a cab after taping his infamous Late Night with David Letterman visit, and then scales a small Central Park hillside and begins crying about how he’s become a joke, how his life is over, how he’s fucked things up beyond recognition.

Right now you’re asking yourself “Gee, why didn’t Martin Scorsese think of this 30 years ago?”…right?

I can’t recount the history of the Phoenix meltdown and deliberate career collapse of ’08 and ’09. I can’t do it! I’m sorry but my fingers are refusing to type the words. Look it up or whatever.

The bearded bellowing pig that we see in I’m Still Here is what guys really look and sound like when they’ve decided to slowly end their lives in installments or chapters or whatever. They vent anger, wallow in melodrama, pollute themselves, rage about how brutal and lacerating their insights are, etc.

It doesn’t matter if parts of I’m Still Here were staged for “entertainment’s sake.” I don’t think very much of it was. I think that that Phoenix’s endlessly discussed psychological celebrity breakdown (via ego, drugs and hubris) is mostly real. But again — it doesn’t matter because the man is toast. His self-loathing is so acute it’s difficult to accept even as he acts it out with obviously intense conviction. He makes himself fat, grows a beard, does coke, falls off stages, drinks, smokes cigarettes in each and every scene — he’s a revolting bloated clown. And now he’s the first award-nominated, formerly respected actor to be shown literally being shat upon.

I’m Still Here is brave but appalling. It’s never “boring”, but is probably one of the most loathsome things I’ve ever sat through, and yet I’m perversely glad that I’ve finally seen it. I can now walk around and make faces as I tell people what I thought of it.

Somewhere around the three-quarter mark I started to laugh and couldn’t stop. It was when Phoenix leaned over a toilet and began vomiting some kind greenish-brown slop, three or four spews in a row. “Wheee!!….I’m sitting here in a Toronto theatre watching Joaquin Phoenix puke!!” I was telling myself. “Here I am! And there he is!”

It’s not an “act” — it’s a serious tragedy, and I feel dirty for having watched it. The poor guy. The misery he’s put himself through, and for what? So he can prove to the world what an inconsequential rapper-poet he is? I myself need to run into a bathroom and splash hot water on my face and go “Eew! I can’t take this! Eeooohhww!”

Joaquin Phoenix has shot his wad with this film. No one will ever be able to accept him as an everyman in a movie ever again. No one will want to watch him in anything. He’s a dead man. The only way he can redeem himself is to take flying lessons, steal a jet and fly it over to Iran and crash it into the home of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

38 thoughts on “Man Who Ate Himself

  1. Nick X on said:

    Well, you just made this into a must-see. I can’t imagine paying for it, though.

  2. I’ve been waiting for this film for a while now. I wasn’t sure what to make of things when he was on Letterman (I honestly thought it was a sketch at the time), but the results weeks made me realize that it was real. I just remember feeling bad for the guy when Ben Stiller came out at the Oscars mocking him.

    With this review, I’m not sure if I still want to see it. It’s truly a tragedy what happened to this guy, and clearly there’s no happiness to be found throughout this movie. l might see it just so I know everything that happened during Pheonix’s meltdown.

  3. Come on, Jeff. Did Magnolia’s marketing team put you up to this?

    It’s impossible to believe for a second this isn’t all one giant act. I haven’t seen the movie, of course — and from your description, I won’t — but you can’t watch the Letterman bit without thinking “Glover did this soooo much better twenty years ago.” Joaquin is no Sacha…

  4. There is absolutely no way in hell that the events in this film are real. If anyone expresses the opinion that it is, they’re just going along with the “joke”.

    The answer to real vs. fake is pretty simple if you ask this question: why would his brother-in-law (or anyone close to him) release this if it was real?

  5. “His self-loathing is so acute it’s difficult to accept even as he acts it out with obviously intense conviction. He makes himself fat, grows a beard, does coke, falls off stages, drinks, smokes cigarettes in each and every scene — he’s a revolting bloated clown.”

    You say this like that’s a BAD thing.

    Fuck, I half want to get famous JUST so I can get to the Sizemore-Lohan downfall.

    I almost can’t relate to people who DON’T want to self-destruct, or who don’t utterly hate themselves.

  6. Having that scene in the movie pretty much telegraphs it was all a stunt. But can we get a confirmation that it is – it’s just the sort of prank Jeff likes to pull. No one is even alluding to it.

    Bottom line, Phonenix is doing some sort of meta comedy, performance art piece. Bet on it.

    And no one will top Glover on Letterman. 20 years on and he’s still coy about it, setting a record for promoting a movie that most people don’t even know exists in the first place.

  7. So who comes off worse? Phoenix or his brother in law for enabling and exposing the train wreck?

    no way is he toast. If I can watch Chloe Sv play a convincing Mormon after sucking off Gallo, then I’m sure I can forgive a shit-eating bender if he returns to acting.

    Please repost milkman’s scene between Phoenix and Ratner. Still the greatest post ever on HE.

  8. If it’s all an act (and I hope to god it is), I’d have loved to have sat in on the pre-planning for the face shitting. How does one prepare to have your face shat on? Does the shitter plan his meals strategically? What if only one of those mysterious little nuggets that you swear “should have been bigger” due to the effort tumbled out?

    So may variables, the mind reels…

  9. I’m guessing that DV footage circa night goggles technology of a very woolly Phoenix beating some dude’s ass is probably post shat face. I don’t intend the forthcoming pun, this is how I talk. Shit was not planned.

  10. JeffC proving yet again that you give someone just a few days, and they will prove themselves a superlative example of whatever they claim to be offended by….

  11. “No one will ever be able to accept him as an everyman in a movie ever again”

    You’re assuming anyone would go and see this film in the first place?

  12. ANYONE WHO DOESN’T FUCK ACTRESSES AND MODELS

    should KILL THEMSELVES.

    I DECREE IT, you fucking NOBODIES.

    FUCK YOU.

    PEOPLE WHO AREN’T FAMOUS AREN’T EVEN HUMAN.

    Fuck you. BITCH

  13. odds are the housewife that sees him in the Walk the Line and Gladiator aren’t going to see this film and won’t think any less of him if he ever decides to return to movies.

  14. BS Wells. This guy can come back if he wants too and if its the right vehicle then people will not give two shits about his melt down. Phoenix is as talented as they come, matching his older brother’s gravitas every step of the way. This is not only the land of opportunity, but the land of second chances. Pop Culture is too fragmented for the masses to care about this guy. All he needs is to get himself into rehab, sober up, and come back roaring.

    Look at Mel Gibson, if Summit releases the talking sock puppet movie then interest in it is going to soar!!!

  15. No way in hell does Jeff really believe that this is real. Come on, man, don’t you think that its kind of unlikely that the guy in the movie would turn up trim, fit and normal looking for the first film festival that this played at? And the Letterman thing was 100% staged.

  16. I agree with Jonathan Spuij: no one but arthouse cowboys are going to see this film and a majority of them already think this is a hoax anyway. Phoenix will be fine. The shame of it is he’s wasted over a year jerking off with his brother-in-law instead of manning up and making another real movie or two. Wasted talent is one of the saddest things there is.

  17. I’m with LexG….

    I can’t imagine becoming famous without totally burning out in the most hilariously tragic manner possible. If the drugs didn’t kill me, I’d probably take the Kurt Cobain way out as I started to sense my fame waning. No time to screw around!

    Why be famous if you can’t blow it all in a glorious display of excess?

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