Maybe motherhood has made me soft. Maybe I’m just getting old, I don’t know. But I think it’s time to quit with the Joaquin Phoenix parodies, people. I’m not sure how to articulate why I think this is important: I just have a bad feeling about the whole situation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good parody. But there’s something about parodying this behavior, from this person, right now, that I’m concerned is going to lead to some kind of unspeakable tragedy in the near future if we don’t cut it out pronto.
If you didn’t catch Joaquin Phoenix’s appearance on Letterman last week, you can watch it here:
It has been suggested by credible sources that Phoenix’s “retirement” from acting and the subsequent bizarre media appearances are part of some kind of “project” in the works (possibly a mockumentary in the vein of This Is Spinal Tap) by Phoenix and his friend, Casey Affleck. Far be it from me to step on the toes of the entertainment writing industrial complex, but I am having a hard time finding the “anonymous tips” from “sources close to the actor” cited by these writers to be credible.
Here’s why. I’m not buying Joaquin Phoenix as a comedian. For starters, the dude cannot take a joke.
Am I the only one who remembers the Oscars from a few years back, the year after Jaime Foxx had won Best Actor for Ray, when Joaquin Phoenix had been nominated for Best Actor in Walk the Line. And Jon Stewart was hosting, and he made a joke that Walk the Line was Ray for white people. (Which? by the way–funny.) But when they panned to Joaquin Phoenix’s face in the wake of the joke, he looked crushed. I mean seriously crushed. He couldn’t hide it. It was just a joke, and not even directed at him specifically. I remember looking at him then and thinking something was wrong, and yeah, I’m not a psychiatrist, and yeah, this armchair diagnosis was done through a TV set, but whatever, I’m a human and I know disappointment when I see it.
Let’s not forget, either, that Joaquin is River Phoenix’s brother. Before he became Joaquin, he was known as “Leaf” Phoenix, and he’s the one who had to call 911 while his brother was dying in his arms. Listen people, that shit doesn’t wash away, even with a few Oscar nods. And Joaquin Phoenix has always demonstrated a sensitivity that is palpable, it is probably part of what makes him a good actor. But I don’t think it’s going to far to suggest that he might have a few demons that would scare the shit out of most of us. I think we should shoot for leaving those be for as long as possible.
As an amateur comedian, I do find it hard to resist the low-hanging fruit, don’t get me wrong. But something about these repetitive parodies rubs me the wrong way. Now, if I think about why they occur, I think it is this: if you watched the original Letterman skit, it begs for some kind of explanation. It is very difficult to believe that somebody who valued their career–whether it is as an actor or as a “hip hop artist” (WTF?)–would go on Letterman and act like that. So I think when you see the parodies, these are not simply a desire to cash in on the whole utter WTF aura surrounding this thing for comedy, but also part of our collective effort to understand what the hell is going on. Is Joaquin Phoneix on drugs? Is he depressed? Is this some kind of Andy Kaufman renaissance?
The thing is, parodies are best when they are very very close but take it just a little too far–just a little beyond the believable, so that you are still able to distinguish the parody from the real thing. Take Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin–she was uncanny, and when she said that she could see “Russia from her house,” as an example of her foreign policy qualifications it was totally believable, even if Palin never actually said those precise words. She was just an inch away from being frightening, and that is why she was so funny.
Joaquin Phoenix is a different story. First we had Alec Baldwin mocking him on The Conan O’Brien show. Ben Stiller (at the Oscars) and Jason Sudeikis (from Saturday Night Live) are not so much parodying as they are straight-up reenacting Phoenix’s Letterman appearance. If Phoenix really were doing some kind of weird Andy Kaufman thing, then Stiller and Sudeikis are straight-up stealing his act, since they don’t really add anything new. And if Phoenix is being sincere, well, then Stiller and Sudeikis are essentially making fun of somebody in the middle of a nervous breakdown. And that kind of sits badly with me. Like kicking puppies.
This is not the only time I’ve seen this kind of boyish desperation during one of Phoenix’s interviews. I’m not even a big fan of his, but I always remember him in interviews because he seems so fragile. Now, maybe it will turn out that I’m wrong, and that this whole thing has been a publicity stunt from the beginning, and to be honest, I hope that is what’s going on. But what I see is a fragile human, possibly struggling with depression and/or drug abuse, forced to go on a national TV show in order to meet the terms of his movie publicity contract. And the dude may be successful and famous, and therefore we may all feel like, “Oh boo fricken hoo” about him, but I’m telling you something’s not right. Something bad is going to happen. So LAY OFF.