Are We In For More Fake 'Documentaries?'

I'm Still Here Joaquin Phoenix

It’s official: the documentary I’m Still Here starring actor turned rapper Joaquin Phoenix is a fraud.

The public suspected as much as soon as they heard Phoenix’s first “song.“ But director Casey Affleck let the unkempt cat out of the bag roughly a week after the movie opened in select cities - and a few days before Phoenix’s return to David Letterman’s couch.

The ramifications of JP’s performance art may be just beginning.

What if other actors take notice of Phoenix’s stunt and start planning their own “Punk’d” maneuver? Why not? Phoenix drew boatloads of press from the stunt, just the kind of attention a lesser known actor might crave.

Phoenix was already on the map when he faked his retirement, but his blueprint could be followed by a rising star or starlet with only a few modest tweaks. Think US Weekly and every other panting tabloid wouldn’t fall for it all over again? Even the “is it or isn’t it true” guessing game is good for some extra headlines.

Voila, instead media sensation without landing a single role of consequence for Jane or Johnny Actor.

It might not even matter if the movie in question tanks. I’m Still Here’s box office haul is a measly $250,000 in its first two weeks of release. Now that the truth is out there, it’s hard to see more movie goers flocking to the feature.

That doesn’t mean this film genre of one is dead. After all, just look at the killing reality shows make on television. Surely, someone out there is thinking of bringing the format - supposedly real situations twisted like pretzels into dramas and comedies - to the big screen. It could appeal to studios for the same reasons it does for TV suits. They’re cheap and the return on investment is occasionally huge.

Boob tube watchers don’t seem to care if The Hills or those Osbourne exploits are real or tweaked by a team of writers.

And the big screen documentary has been edging in this direction for years. Look at Michael Moore’s handiwork. He took a genre known for dull expositions on nature and the arts and spit-polished it until it looked as shiny as a summer blockbuster. But as right-of-center scribes and news outlets alike have noted, Moore’s films occasionally tinker with the truth.

Now, the documentary playing at your local art house is more cinematic op-ed than Frontline installment. But is that a slippery slope to a “Kardashians” feature film?

We may partially be there already. Did anyone watching the documentary American Teen and find the story arcs a little too tidy and Breakfast Club-like? And what about Catfish, the new “it” documentary already causing some critics to throw a yellow flag in its direction?

The brilliant comedy Borat teased us with a combination of Candid Camera stunts and scripted bits. But it was a comedy - and an uproarious one at that - so audiences shrugged over any reality show-style concerns.

All it will take is one faux documentary like I’m Still Here to strike the zeitgeist and the floodgates will open. Here’s hoping film producers think twice - if not more - before going down the Phoenix trail.

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