I Wrote my First Movie Review While Giving Birth to a Camera. It has followed me ever since. Please don't mind the Mess.
Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
Disgruntled, lonely white guys now have a new (anti) hero in writer/director Todd Phillips’ best movie since the original Hangover 10 years ago. As I was leaving the sticky floors of the theater as the end credits rolled, I did think it odd that some act of violence in the near or far future will somehow be blamed on a movie, probably this movie.
Good luck with that.
Granted, Joker seems to be the most divisive film of 2019, with praise and scorn heaped on it ever since it made the film festival rounds in August and September. But does the movie live up to the movement?
I think I’d have to see Joker again to fully answer that question, as the first viewing left me a little unsettled. I am glad that time travel is not used as a storytelling shortcut like in other, more accessible comic book movies.
Yes, this is technically a comic book movie (because we need more of those), but that’s just the brittle shell Joker is encased in before it breaks out into something more, something more resonant than the entertaining fluff you get from Marvel and DC.
Either way, you should see Joker at least once. I mean, Downton effing Abbey opened huge. Surely you can make this time to see this.
Joker is ostensibly set in the 70s or early 80s. The movie doesn’t wear its time period in every frame, but some of the clothes give it away.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is having a bad day. If you hear it from Arthur himself, he’s having a bad life. The first act of the movie is practically a checklist of things that would turn anybody into a comic book villain, at least if you believe movies and TV.
Gotham City is in the middle of a garbage strike so there are bags of trash literally all over the streets. If that metaphor doesn’t hit you over the head as to what kind of movie this will be, then maybe you’d be better off watching Far From Home for the 10th time.
Arthur works as a clown (if I remember correctly, Arthur and his coworkers report to a kind of clown central in the middle of Gotham) and he’s not a very good one. Arthur means well, but there’s just something off about him. It’s not just that he has a “medical condition” that makes him laugh at the most inopportune times. It’s not just that he’s in his 40s living with his mother (Frances Conroy) and giving her sponge baths.
Everyone who meets Arthur senses something different, possibly dangerous. He’s a time bomb that’s been 15 seconds from detonating ever since he was born. This would be a really bad time for something to tip him over into Arkham-ready.
Arthur’s on shaky ground with his boss after he has the audacity to get jumped and beaten up. 6…
He has a meet-cute with his neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beets). They to hit it off nicely enough. She seems to get and accept Arthur’s strangeness. Maybe things aren’t so bad. Breakdown temporarily averted.
Arthur has dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. He keeps all his jokes in a nice little notebook. Along with scribblings on how he’d like to kill himself and maybe take others with him. As we learned from Se7en, it rarely ends well when a creepy white guy keeps a lot of notebooks filled with random ramblings. 4…
Hopefully things don’t get worse.
After an unfortunate incident involving a gun and a children’s hospital, Arthur is fired and stripped of all his clown privileges. You know it’s bad when you can’t decide if someone looks worse or better without clown makeup. 3…
Mom keeps sending letters to local bigwig Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen). She worked for the Wayne Foundation years ago, but now she just keeps harassing him. Now she’s ended up in the hospital. 2…
Even his comedy hero talk-show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) is making fun of him on TV. Meltdown eminent.
It’s just a matter of time before Arthur takes his pain out on all of Gotham. He has nothing left to lose, so now everything is a joke to him. As these 3 douchey yuppies that work for the Wayne Foundation will soon find out.
What Works With Joker
- Joaquin Phoenix – Duh (as Billie Eilish would say, um, sing). The most indelible performance of the year. Which is saying something considering how much baggage comes with playing the Joker. Though Heath Ledger is still my favorite Joker, Phoenix’ performance comes from a truly disturbed place. Unlike previous Jokers (especially Jack Nicholson’s Joker in which he played Jack Nicholson), there is nothing “funny” about Arthur Fleck and what he becomes. There are no quotable lines (“Why so serious”) for you to say to yourself. Fleck is just as disturbing without the makeup as he is in it. There are nods to De Niro’s Travis Bickle and Rupert Pumpkin, but Fleck is all Phoenix. By the nature of such a showy role, he should get an Oscar nomination. And unless some British actor is playing someone with an incurable disease or teaching a group of inner city youths to do fractions, he should win it.
- Though everyone not named Joaquin Phoenix gets very little screentime, Zazie Beets provides of a ray of light as the supremely decent single mom Sophie. In a trash heap like Gotham, a considerate person is miles above the curve.
- The best/darkest DC movie since Christopher Nolan took over the Batman franchise. It makes you wonder how a movie can be this good while DCEU flounders with the substandard Aquaman and (See: everything else from DC). I know Joker is a standalone, but just think of what you can do when you sometimes break the company line. Come to think of it, Joker also throws a spiked metal ball to the corporate sameness of the Marvel formula as well. That’s what an ‘R’ rating will get you.
- If you’re worried about the violence, there is more realistic violence than you’d ever see in a comic book movie (no, Deadpool doesn’t count), but it isn’t wall-to-wall like some would lead you to believe. The instances stay with you longer because most of it is genuinely shocking.
- Those expecting your typical comic book action will be sorely disappointed. Better you should know now this is a character study, and that you can watch Ant-Man 6 anytime you want. This is much better than that and will be remembered long after Marvel finishes Phase 56 or whatever.
What Doesn’t Work With Joker
- I know the movie’s called Joker and that Arthur Fleck is the main character but it is a little off-putting to see names like Robert De Niro appear in what amounts to barely a cameo. Other well-known character actors (Bill Camp, Shea Wigham, Glow’s Marc Maron) barely have any lines, much less fleshed-out bit parts. It doesn’t detract from the whole of the movie; it just makes you wonder what was cut out of the film.
Joker is best DC movie since The Dark Knight, though considering the current state of the DCEU that’s not saying much. Believe the hype, or don’t. Just see it and make up your own mind before too many things get spoiled for you. Just remember, creepy white guy, this is just a movie and no girl wants a picture of your genitals, no matter what the voices tell you.
Buy Joker now!
Sila Ozgoren on December 22, 2019:
Joaquin Phoenix was fantastic as both Arthur Fleck and his persona Joker.
Movie Whisperer from Moreton Bay, Queensland on October 11, 2019:
I’m gob-smackingly amazed that Phoenix made such an outstanding Joker. I adored this movie and despite all the clatter and noise surrounding it — I loved the version the most I think. I’d have to go back and rewatch Heath Ledger to be sure but this story was brilliant, the splintering was subtle but perfectly timed and his unravelling was great.
Noel Penaflor (author) from California on October 05, 2019:
Thank you. Like I wrote, not a lot of action as it's more of a character piece. Hope you enjoy the film.
BackWoodz CBD Flower from Virginia on October 05, 2019:
I am so excited to see this. First time I have been so hype about a movie since Sin City. I am not a fan of graphics and big explosions. I would much rather have a story line of winding emotion. Thanks for a great review.