Casey Affleck is still here (offering tortured explanations)
By now it's hard to feel resentful about the Casey Affleck-Joaquin Phoenix hoax that is "I'm Still Here." It's just easier to shake your head at the whole misguided stunt.
On Tuesday, director Affleck came out on the stage of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" to follow up on his comments last week that the entire Phoenix career switch was staged.
Leno, to his credit, asked if Affleck wanted people to think the film was real -- basically, he was asking if Affleck wanted it to cross from postmodern gag into outright deception. And Affleck essentially turned up his palms and acted as though he was surprised by the backlash.
This was a character piece, a "Being John Malkovich homage," from the start, he said. "I'm Still Here" is "not a documentary," he maintained. "It's a movie about an actor who's been doing this for his whole life, and he decides he wants to try something else."
"It doesn't seem like it would cause that much confusion, but it did. And we didn't address it. We never said, like, this isn't really Joaquin." (Well, that just might be why it caused the confusion.)
Affleck went on to say that he did -- sort of -- want people to be a little confused. "We just wanted to make a movie that would help people suspend their disbelief. They could go to the theater, they could experience it and sort wonder whether it's real or not," he said.
He seemed to want it both ways, against all rules of logic; you can't want people to be confused and then be surprised that they are. Affleck and Phoenix kind of squandered any credibility by saying that they never wanted people to think this was real the moment they included scenes in the film of them going after journos who thought it was a hoax.
Affleck also made a distinction that didn't hold much water. He maybe did want to mislead us a little, he said, but only when we were most deeply engaged with the film. "I wanted them to think it was real while they were watching it," he told Leno. "But I assumed when it was over they would understand it wasn't real." (We only wanted to give you the bad prognosis when you were in the exam room. We were going to call you right when you got home to take it all back.)
There's no point in feeling anger at all this. Keeping the is-it-real ball in play for so long was part of what got people talking (if not buying tickets). And we suppose saying it was all an act is what will get people, especially people in Hollywood, to stop asking questions. It's just hard not to be baffled by the idea that Affleck and Phoenix really believed this would end well, that people would be so dazzled by the gag or the performance that they wouldn't be thrown by the whiplash effect.
On Wednesday night, Phoenix is slated to be a guest on "The Late Show With David Letterman," his first televised appearance since his infamous Letterman outing in early 2009. Presumably, he won't be affecting the Spiraling Joaquin. Actually, the best we might hope for is for Phoenix to come out on stage, still bearded and still zoned out, carrying right on with the descent depicted in the film. That might mean the breakdown was real, and Affleck was just covering for his buddy over the last week so he could get some new film roles. Now that would be a good hoax.
Photo: Casey Affleck. Credit: Robert Caplin / Los Angeles Times