Plot: River Phoenix's little brother Joaquin decides that enough's enough and announces his retirement from acting. In the aftermath of that decision, Ben Affleck's little brother Casey follows him around with a camera to document Hollywood's response and the birth of Joaquin's new career in hip hop.
Here's who ends up looking really good in this movie: Puff Daddy (or whatever the hell he goes by these days), David Letterman, and Edward James Olmos. The latter's speech (see below) is so freakin' good. I'm not sure if any of these guys were in on the joke (I think I heard that Letterman was), but if they were, their "performances" as themselves were really good. It's really hard to play yourself both realistically and naturally. Ask Joaquin Phoenix because his performance in this is wildly uneven. I sometimes bought that he was a real person living the Charlie Sheen life, struggling with public life and the emotions that it brings and excited about his new career as a terrible rapper. There were other times when it just didn't click. Casey Affleck claims this was the performance of his career, and in chunks, it is impressive. When he's got one take to work with (the television appearances or interviews, the rap concert), he delivers something authentic. There are some scenes where his drugged-out and haggard character just seemed like an over-acting job. (i.e. "Do the fucking snow angel!") The movie also seems very very long, and some of the scenes just dragged. "Ok," I said aloud several times, "I get it. Move on to Joaquin doing something else shocking." I went into this expecting a train wreck, and a train wreck I got. A very long train wreck. A train wreck in slow motion. But I liked the idea behind the experiment and similar to the Sasha Baron Cohen pseudo-documentaries, it uses those not in on the joke to satirize society. In this case, it's looking at the public's expectation of their matinee idols; their obsession with the rich and famous, especially when they're in the process of crashing and burning; and that fuzzy line between real person and entertainer. I was caught off guard by how much I had to think while watching the train wreck. I was also caught off guard by how much I liked this since I really just popped it in for the novelty and didn't even expect to finish the thing. I do wonder what this will do to Phoenix's career. It doesn't seem like he's got any movies coming out any time soon.
Here's Olmos's speech: "That's you, drops of water and you're on top of the mountain of success. But one day you start sliding down the mountain and you think wait a minute; I'm a mountain top water drop. I don't belong in this valley, this river, this low dark ocean with all these drops of water. Then one day it gets hot and you slowly evaporate into air, way up, higher than any mountain top, all the way to the heavens. Then you understand that it was at your lowest that you were closest to God. Life's a journey that goes round and round and the end is closest to the beginning. So if it's change you need, relish the journey."