Not-so-recently I viewed I’m Still Here, a 2010 mockumentary directed by Casey Affleck and starring Joaquin Phoenix. Unlike Sacha Baron Cohen, who punked us yanks just a few years prior in the sexy-time mockumentary Borat, Phoenix creates a mock character of his own identity–successfully fooling the media throughout the filming of this little-loved gem. Despite the movie’s lackluster reviews, I was eager to witness Phoenix punking America as “himself” and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
Of course, I grew up with a weird fascination with the Phoenix clan. I wasn’t alone in my childlike curiosity; most of the girls in the neighborhood where I grew up were likewise intrigued by them. We watched them starring in movies and after-school specials. We sat huddled over magazines that featured the Phoenix siblings sitting together in an Elysian field on a too-perfect day–one big happy family with the most interesting names and an even more interesting upbringing. When we imagined ourselves not of our bucolic California valley roots, but as the children of world travelers who were mistakenly adopted into stagnation (girls gotta dream, right?), we were the long-lost Phoenix children.
Watching the film, I got choked up thinking of what it would be like to lose a sibling. After all the mocking antics, there were raw moments of genuine poignancy for Phoenix that made me want to call my sister. When his brother passed, I was in North Hollywood (visiting friends of my then boyfriend’s mother). I cried buckets on the inside–wanting to say a few words, to pay tribute somehow–while the rest of my company watched the news and mocked his passing repeatedly. Not a single sentiment of appreciation for the beauty of his life’s work was uttered. Nobody gave a shit that I was a fan, or that I thought they were all raving inconsiderate assholes. All that mattered to them was having something new to eviscerate that day.
Nearly two decades later, there I was in a flood of tears at the end of the film–a strange evocation from a mockumentary. I was given one last chance to take a glimpse into the lives of the family that had so enthralled me throughout my youth, and I was truly grateful. Thankfully there were no assholes around to spoil that for me.