Critical reception to the film has been mixed. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert called "I'm Still Here" "A sad and painful documentary that serves little useful purpose other than to pound another nail into the coffin. Here is a gifted actor who apparently by his own decision has brought desolation upon his head."
On Slate.com, Dana Stevens wrote, "The worst thing about I'm Still Here is the fact that it exists."
To be fair, "I'm Still Here" isn't an easy movie to stomach. It follows Phoenix through blow-up after blow-up, joint after joint, beer after beer. He screams, he smokes, he snorts.
Over the course of a months-long quest for legitimacy that takes him all over the country and eventually to Panama, Phoenix insists that he's better than everyone else, that he deserves A-list treatment, that he's too cool for Hollywood, that he's got what it takes to make it as an emcee, and that no, this whole quitting-acting-taking-up-rapping thing is not a hoax.
Phoenix's antics bring to mind the stunts in "Jackass" and "Borat." He falls off stages, jumps into crowds to fight naysayers, and lures pretty women into his hotel room by questionable means. "I'm Still Here" features plenty of squirm-worthy footage: topless call girls, drugs galore, full frontal male nudity and, as rumored in the run-up to the movie's release, a defecation scene that will make you hide your eyes.
Phoenix sinks to low lows. It's still hard to sympathize with him. The key moment of "I'm Still Here" comes when the "Walk the Line" actor appears on "The Late Show" in February 2009, mumbling and grumbling his way through the interview. When Letterman makes fun of Phoenix's inability to utter coherent sentences, Phoenix attempts a third grade-level retaliation: sticking gum on Letterman's desk. Cameras show the nerves that led up to Phoenix's appearance and the breakdown that follows -- he demands that his driver stop the car so he can go cry in the bushes of Central Park, whimpering about how everyone thinks he's a joke.
But even if Phoenix is a totally baseless individual, even if the film is not 100-percent documentary, there's something redeemable about "I'm Still Here." It paints the picture of the fame monster that drags down people who have (or had) talent but no grounding in reality -- a beast that some might argue dominates the better part of Hollywood. The "is this guy for real?!" factor makes the movie riveting. Phoenix's unpredictable tantrums make him as watchable as he is loathsome. Considering the amount of attention he's gotten in the wake of "I'm Still Here," it's clear some are still interested in tuning into Phoenix's story.