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September 16, 2010 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-09-16

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4B - Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

FILM NOTEBOOK
Lamentations of the rich and famous .

The moviegoing public
shouldn't be deluged
with celebs' problems
By ANDREW LAPIN
Senior Arts Editor
"I'm Still Here," that movie about
how much Joaquin Phoenix hates
being Joaquin Phoenix, opens at the
State Theater tomorrow. And it serves
as a preview for a holiday movie season
filled with a surprising level of upper-
crust narcissism for a country that's
supposedly still getting over a reces-
sion. Not since the Great Depression
has there been a greater discrepancy
between the lifestyles of the general
American public and the lifestyles
depicted in the movies being marketed
to them.
Let's start with that aforementioned
self-loathing documentary, or maybe
it's a mockumentary. More likely it's
simply a fuck-you-mentary. I haven't
had the privilege of sitting through
Casey Affleck's wonderful social exper-
iment, but everything I've read and
heard about it tells me there are only a
few things that are confirmed about it:
1. It features scenes in which Phoe-
nix - he of the dual Oscar nominations
- does drugs, engages in explicit acts
with various women and tells everyone
how much he wants to abandon all his
acting prestige and fame.
2. It expects you to care about his
problems.
Now don't get me wrong, there's a
very good chance that Phoenix really
did have an awful breakdown and needs
actual psychiatric care, in which case,
yes, he would be very much deserving
of the public's sympathy. (Why his own
brother-in-law would choose to distrib-
ute a film about his sorrows for profit
instead of seeking professional help
is another issue entirely.) But there's
an equally good chance that at least a
large chunk of"I'm Still Here" is a sham
designed to prey on the audience's per-
ceived sympathies for rich, famous peo-
ple. And that's what troubles me.

Phoenix was never an A-list celeb-
rity, necessarily - at least, not along
the lines of Johnny Depp or George
Clooney. He was someone who could
have legitimately announced his early
retirement from acting without raising
too much of a fuss ... after all, we can't
be expected to keep tabs on every single
name in Hollywood that penetrates the
collective consciousness. That's what
makes the very idea of "I'm Still Here"
appalling in its own way: Right there in
the title is the implication that we - as
a nation - were wringing our hands in
utter worry over the plight of this guy.
"Don'tworry, everyone,"thatmovie's
poster is announcing, with its extreme
close-up of a scraggly, homeless-looking
Phoenix. "I'm still here. But I'm a little
worse for the wear, and because I'm a
celebrity, I want to air my psychologi-
cal problems for all the world. Because
you see, it wasn't enough for me to make
more money and enjoy more success
than all of you people. I also needed to
let you know just how little my life was
satisfying me."
The feel-bad-for-the-celebrity gim-
mick is nothing new in cinema. In
fact, some of the greatest works of the
medium ("Sunset Boulevard," "All
About Eve," etc.) have come out of that
very concept. And earlier this summer
we got "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,"
a slightly more genuine documentary
about a celebrity figure, which earned
rave reviews for its depiction of the fick-
le nature of fame. But when the same
subject keeps reappearing, even when
it's supposedly being handled tactfully,
someone in Hollywood should prob-
ably start answering questions about
just how far we want to "escape" in our
movies.
Over. Christmas break we'll be
treated to a double dose of Problems
of the Rich and Famous. There's Sofia
Coppola's "Somewhere," a "Funny
People"-esque drama about a wealthy
actor (Stephen Dorff) lost in his giant
mansion, who must have a Big Think
about his life when his young daughter
(Ele Fanning) re-enters it. And then
there's James L. Brooks's "How Do You
Know," a love triangle where two out

of the three corners are professional
athletes (played by Reese Witherspoon
and Owen Wilson). To be fair, the third
corner of the triangle is a successful
businessman (Paul Rudd) on the verge
of losing his company, so maybe that
will make everything OK. How do you
know?
The presence of "Somewhere" isn't
that surprising considering the source.
After all, Coppola was behind the
decade's defining actor-in-existential-
crisis drama, 2003's "Lost in Transla-
tion." And it makes perfect sense that
a filmmaker growing up within the
Coppola family would want to return
time and time again to these familiar
themes. "Write what you know," my
creative writing teachers have told me
since elementaryschool. If allyou know
is the upper class, odds are good your
works might have a pretty consistent
theme.
"Somewhere" recentlywonthe Gold-
en Lion at the Venice Film Festival - the
top prize. Head juror Quentin Taran-
tino said the vote was unanimous. So
for the moment, at least, the subgenre
of movies about rich-people problems is
here to stay. But the issue at hand is how
much longer audiences will want to see
movies like these.
I admit that all this bitterness is
based on speculation, and that these
movies could easily surprise me by
speaking to audiences of all creeds. But
regardless of the quality of films like
this, what are we left with? Celebri-
ties bein' celebrities, not even trying to
make a connection with us lowly com-
moners. Or worse, these are their Bar-
ton Fink-like attempts to connect with
us in as isolated a manner as possible.
Eventually we'll probably realizethat
Joaquin Phoenix and Sophia Coppola
aren't the best refractors of the popular
experience. I know it's the movie indus-
try's job to present us with a wide vari-
ety of stories and a cross-section of the
human experience. Celebrities, even
those tortured by levels of wealth that
most people in the country would kill
for, are still a part of that. But it doesn't
have to be our job to sympathize with
them.

COURTESY OF MAGNOLIA
"I'm Still Here" is about the lost year of Joaquin Phoenix, starring the lost beard of Zach Galifianakis.

EVERYONE WHO ATTENDS THE DAILY MASS MEETING GETS A FREE APPLICATION!
Tonight at 7 p.m.
420 Maynard Street

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