YEAR IN FILM: The Social Network, Catfish, and I'm Still Here push the boundaries of truth and fiction
I actually choose to take Catfish at face value. I've encountered enough Facebook trickery on my own to know that people with too much time on their hands will go to great lengths to deceive. Stranger things have happened than one underappreciated mom creating an elaborate fantasy world. But as is the case with The Social Network, I'd argue that the reality is somewhat beside the point. Our viewing experience is what counts. Our perception of these films — our interpretation of the truth — is something no one can contest.
Then what of the documentary we know to be fake? I'm Still Here, Casey Affleck's look at Joaquin Phoenix's foray into hip-hop, was revealed to be a hoax long after most people had already reached that conclusion. Why should we have ever believed that Phoenix had essentially lost it and given up on acting? We saw the viral video of his disastrous appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman. We read all the gossip blogs attempting to dissect Phoenix's bizarro behavior. ("What is he on?") But we know better than to take anything at face value. We've been Catfish-ed before.
"But wait!" you protest. "I thought truth wasn't the point." I did say that, and thanks for paying attention! Here's the thing: fact or fiction, The Social Network and Catfish succeed as films. I'm Still Here, not so much. The Affleck-Phoenix collaboration is a failed experiment that does inspire some discussion but certainly not the kind it was aiming for. It's a half-baked satire on Hollywood, born from the misguided notion that acting like an asshole is inherently funny. Critics and audiences didn't reject I'm Still Here because it wasn't true, they rejected it because it's really, really shitty.
In a Facebook era, we are all uniquely able to choose how best to represent ourselves. These films rest on how they've been received, not on the questionable truth behind them. It's about putting your best foot forward, whether that's as whiz kid Mark Zuckerberg or Catfish's impossible princess Megan Faccio. And let's face it: no one wants to get poked by bearded freak show Joaquin Phoenix.
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