(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)
Why I added it to my queue: Because I simply couldn't pass it up, after hearing about its almost unbelievable premise -- a fictional movie but filmed like a documentary, it records the supposed year-long mental breakdown of a major Hollywood actor (Joaquin Phoenix) in the middle of public, and of all the ways the monsters in the "entertainment industry" around him take advantage of this to make a few more bucks for themselves, only with Phoenix never in that entire year acknowledging in public or to these people that the slow-motion breakdown was in fact fake, the entire thing shot and edited by his brother-in-law and fellow award-winning edgy actor Casey Affleck.
The reality: Wow. Wow, wow, wow. I have to admit, I've never been much of a fan of Joaquin Phoenix before this year, and when he supposedly made the decision in 2009 to quit acting and become a shaggy indie-douchebag hiphop artist, it barely even registered in my consciousness; but then when this film came out earlier this year, and it became clear that the entire thing had been some sort of elaborate Andy-Kaufman-style media prank, I suddenly found myself with a lot more interest for both it and Phoenix himself, in that I'm a big fan of Kaufman-type elaborate media pranks, and didn't realize that Phoenix was as subversive like that himself. Ah, but then I actually watched the film a few weeks ago, and realized that it is in fact much, much more than what was just described: it's essentially an entire fictional feature, only with none of the actors besides Phoenix himself realizing that they're playing fictional roles, which combines the goofy public parts we already know of the story (the mumbling Letterman appearance, the disaster-filled hiphop shows) with behind-the-stage scenes of reckless substance abuse, mental imbalance and an almost lethal dose of self-loathing, essentially showing us what it must be like to actually be someone like, say, Lindsay Lohan, and what must be going on in her life in all those moments when she's not flashing her cooter when getting out of a limo in front of a trendy danceclub.
It's fascinating and riveting, then, to see how all these people around Phoenix react to all this, while thinking that the entire breakdown and descent into addiction is real; because basically, in many cases you can literally see the smoke coming out of their ears, from all the effort being expended in their brain trying to come up with ways to exploit the situation for their own petty gain. That's the fascinating part of this movie -- not the machinations of Phoenix himself, but the utterly naked look at the greed and sociopathy that runs the trillion-dollar entertainment industry around him, of the way that media figures like him, Lohan, Britney Spears and others have in recent times been turned literally into money-printing lumps of flesh by this industry, so that it no longer matters if they're well or sick or sane or crazy or anything, just that they're a living bag of meat that can be propped up in the middle of this giant maelstrom of revenue-generation going on around them. And I think it's very telling indeed that, of the dozens of people we see interacting with Phoenix in this movie, most of whom are well aware of the problems he's supposedly having, only a single one of them bothers on-camera to try to talk some sense into him, or at least find out if he needs any help (surprisingly enough, that being fellow award-winning actor and liberal activist Edward James Olmos).
It's no surprise, I think, that the mainstream media reacted so badly to this film when it came out a few months ago; and that's because this is a devastating indictment of that very media, a very raw and unfiltered look at the pure cruelty and manipulation that now marks that industry, with it no surprise that they would be so threatened by a movie that exposes this so intimately. It's destined in the future to be a dark classic, a film that teaches our grandchildren as much about our times as Borat does, and today officially becomes my favorite film so far of 2010. I encourage you to check it out yourself whenever you have a chance.
Strangest piece of trivia: For those who are still tempted to wonder if this film is real, please note that even the supposed "childhood home movies" shown at the beginning and end were created specifically for this project, using professional actors and staged locations.
Worth your time? Absolutely