“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?”
JOKER has arrived. After 80 years of getting his ass kicked by Batman, the villain affectionately known as the Clown Prince of Crime and the Harlequin of Hate is finally the central focus of his own film. And it is quite the film.
Over the years, the Joker has been given several different origin stories but the most common plot point amongst them is the Joker being a failed comedian, which is what JOKER uses as the basis of its story and builds from there. Arthur Fleck (a name used for the purpose of this film, as the Joker has never been given an official alter ego) is a lonely, damaged, and mentally ill man that has been seemingly shunned by society and clings to a quote from his mother telling him that his purpose was to bring joy and laughter to the world. This is the motivation behind his futile attempts at stand up comedy and his occupation as a rent-a-clown. But, as Arthur’s already derelict world reaches its breaking point, he comes to a realization that rather than accept the world that has turned its back on him, he must rise up and fight it. Pretty heavy for a comic book movie, right?
I was skeptical of Todd Philips (THE HANGOVER, OLD SCHOOL) being attached to direct and write a film that isn’t about fart jokes, but aside from some clumsy dialogue and obvious imagery, he manages to hold his own and craft an interesting and unique take on a complex character. I was also skeptical of the social commentary the film would provide, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually presented quite tastefully. Although you should not expect anything TOO deep, JOKER has more to say about class warfare and access to healthcare than “incels” despite what the media is leading the general population to believe. Arthur has fantasies about women but for the most part does not prioritize laying down clown pipe. The cinematography and score deserve particular praise, cultivating an anxiety filled atmosphere that will keep your skin crawling. But, of course, the shining star of JOKER is the always brilliant Joaquin Phoenix (HER, THE MASTER), whose chilling and captivating performance as the titular character will certainly catapult the “Joaquer” into Oscar consideration and gives Heath Ledger’s Joker a run for his money.
JOKER does not come without faults, though. The aforementioned clumsy dialogue makes for some awkward (in a bad way) moments, with forced, albeit clever, one liners being peppered into certain scenes. As if Todd Phillips thought, “Oh, this is gonna kill ‘em!” whilst writing the script. The film feels like a rollercoaster narrative at times, as well. The action escalates extremely quickly for short periods of time, and keeps your heart racing only to be followed by several minutes of nothingness. JOKER pays homage to classic films by Martin Scorsese, but to the point that it feels like more like imitation than inspiration. For example, Robert De Niro is quite literally in the reverse of his role from THE KING OF COMEDY, and Arthur Fleck is obviously a Travis Bickle-type. This shouldn’t be enough to take away from the enjoyment of the film, but someone that hasn’t seen many Scorsese films may find it better than someone that has.
Something I found interesting about JOKER is that with the craze about comic book movies these days, I wonder if attaching the name Joker to a character study about a man (who could be almost anybody) going insane was just a money grab. The film would certainly not have gained as much traction and mainstream appeal if it was not about an iconic comic book character. This is not exactly a criticism, as I appreciate the realism over a CGI clusterfuck, just a thought. Another film that comes to mind is THE DARK KNIGHT, a film that might as well have been a spy film but just happens to have arguably the most popular superhero of all time as the main character.
All in all, the hype is real. JOKER is not for everyone, as you will feel uncomfortable at times the slow pace, themes, and dark tone might be a turn off to some people expecting more of a comic book type movie. It’s not gonna change the world or even create any dialogue that lasts for more than a week, but most films don’t. I believe it is a legitimately well made, thought provoking, and entertaining film, and I would personally definitely watch it again.
Final rating: ★★★★