Joker is desperate to be a different and profound comic book movie but in the end, it is dull and limp that doesn’t have anything interesting to say about the character or society.
Director: Todd Phillips
Summary: A gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society.
In the lead up to Joker, there have been plenty of questions. Some people were asking why a movie about the Joker needed to exist at all. There were people asking whether or not this was going to have any part of the larger DC universe. Then there was the worry that the movie was going to somehow sympathize with a certain community known for being very disturbing. In the end, it seems that all of the worries were for nothing because Joker has surprisingly little to say beyond a surface reading of mental illness and societal anger.
For all of the many faults that this movie ends up having none of it can fall on star Joaquin Phoenix. He goes for it with a fascinating performance that is worth all of the accolades that people are throwing at him. They are well earned. He uses his body in interesting ways, it’s a very physical performance despite the lack of action scenes, and his laugh is disturbing and fantastic. The overall look of the character, the make-up, and costume design are all well done.
The script that Phoenix has to work from is the weakest link in the entire production. It’s clear that the movie is desperate to be seen as something unique and different when in reality this is a story we’ve seen before. A man is put down by society and ends up lashing out violently and unintentionally inspires others to do so. The only difference between this and every other movie we’ve seen with this plot is the window dressing. Even then the commentary on everything is surface level.
Mental healthcare is a mess and even more so for the lower class. The wealth gap is a bad thing and the wealthy look down on the poor. There is nothing shocking about what Arthur ends up doing to the people who have wronged him. There is nothing interesting happening on screen as we watch someone who stops taking his medication because he can’t get them go off the deep end. If you know absolutely nothing about the reality of mental health issues and realize that people go off of their meds not because they want to but because they have then that will be a surprise. However, this is still a movie about a guy running around with clown make-up on so any discussion will get written off.
As the movie tries to have meaning it fails to do anything interesting. It’s boring as very little happens and the character work isn’t making up for any of it. It ends with making a huge speech and finally cops out completely by refusing to even d0uble down on its own premise. It wastes great supporting roles including Zazie Beetz. By the time the credits roll you know Joker has spent a significant amount of time trying to tell you something but that something isn’t anything particularly insightful or even interesting. We’ve seen this before and we’ve seen it better.
Joker is a thirteen-year-old that has read a few interesting articles online and now considers himself an expert. He’s here to lecture you in the broadest strokes possible while mostly missing the point and not really saying anything significant. The performance in Joker is extremely well done and the movie goes to great lengths to really accurately capture a city in the 1980s. There just isn’t anything beneath the surface level reading.
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