Dir: Todd Phillips. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Frances Conroy, Robert De Niro. R. Color. 121 min.
“I just don’t want to feel bad anymore”. – Arthur Fleck
This film is not for the faint of heart. If you’re into the comedic iterations of the joker character from years past in both comics and television, you’re far off. If you’re expecting the famously chaotic Heath Ledger version of the character from “The Dark Knight” you’ve come to the wrong place. Todd Phillips“Joker” is an exploration into the struggles of mental health, human cruelty, and ultimate insanity.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a tortured human being on multiple levels. He is ridiculed and physically beaten down from the start by kids in an alleyway before we even see the opening titles. Set in the early 1980’s based on scenic design, we begin with Fleck struggling to float above water. His boss at an odd clown for hire talent business hates him. His mother Penny (Frances Conroy) is a train wreck that relies on Arthur to feed and bath her on a daily basis. Plus his court appointed social worker therapist refuses to supply him with more than his current seven different medications at a time.
Fleck struggles with normal day to day conversation, even handing out laminated cards explaining his illness of laughing incessantly when interacting and offending people on the bus or the subway. He lives in a Gotham City craphole apartment where the best part of his day is watching the late night show starring Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) in his mother’s bed. Arthur gets glimpses of hope. A black single mother named Sophie (Zazie Beetz) takes a liking to Fleck’s unique kindness. A friend and fellow clown gives Arthur a gun to protect himself against possible future on the job attacks.
Things begin to crumble, slowly, as Arthur first stalks Sophie around the city for a day. Not to hurt her. He is simply incapable mentally of how new relationships work. There is also an incident at a night club in which he cannot comprehend what a joke is during a stand up comedy show. The biggest hammer drops when he has his gun drop out of his trousers during a clown gig at a children’s cancer hospital. Fleck is fired and in a fit of rage murders three wall street type a-holes abusing a woman on the train late one night. The incident hits the papers and ignites a revolution against the upper class as our “Joker” becomes a hero of Gotham. Or does he?
Having always wanted to be on the late night show, Fleck is devastated when ridiculed on national television by his idol for his awful standup routine that was caught on tape, all the while in the hospital with his dying mother. On top of that, his government supplemented medication is done for thanks to mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne, yes Batman’s dad, having cut funding. Then the brutal final act comes, and it is a doozy you will either love or hate.
Let’s get this clear to all the critics who have said that Joaquin Phoenix is “doing too much acting” nonsense. Yeah, he’s playing the damn joker! Not exactly a roll you tone down. Did you want him to just put in gold teeth and get stupid tattoos so that he looked like Jared Leto’s Hot Topic version of the character? No, because he’s actually acting! Phoenix’s performance is remarkable as he makes this iconic bad guy the most humanistic thing to latch onto in the film. The slow rise from having mental and physical health problems to being completely insane is so well paced from beginning to end. That dance down the stairs alone is iconic.
Another surprisingly great element is the way in which director Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver tend to blur the lines between fiction and reality all the way to the very end. There are a few obvious “It’s all in your head” moments while others will have you questioning if what you just saw really happened. Did that person really exist? Were we actually watching the truth? Instead of giving the audience a sociopath on a silver platter the film allows us to see through his eyes and understand perhaps where they are coming from.
“Joker” is also not without a few flaws. The tie-in to the Batman family stuff sucks. I know, you have to in order to sell tickets. Plus the semi-twist that isn’t actually true, you’ll see. The filmmakers never fully threw everything out the window to tell the story they wanted to. Whether that is their fault or the production companies I don’t know. I’m guessing the latter.
One must commend such a unique experience that is “Joker”. Do not take the kids, please. It is the opposite of saying “Wakanda Forever!” when you drop them off at school. Yes it is cynic, and if you’re favorite day of the year is comic-con then this film is going to have you seething at the mouth with anger. I get it. However, if you take a moment to contemplate “Joker” as a singular piece, you might see a bold look at how society can break someone down and then have that same person become the voice of a broken down society. There are big and small ideas here that are rarely touched on in a film such as this.
Suck Factor: 1out of 7 (7 means your movie really SUCKS!)
Written by Byrd
The SUCK FACTOR, how it works. We have flipped the rating system upside down. If a film is classic, it gets a 0. Meaning that movie has 0 SUCKS. If a film is complete trash you must avoid at all costs, it gets a 7, meaning this movie really SUCKS!