Joker (2019): Film Review
Joker, or Todd Phillips' exploration of how society can ruin a man, is nothing more than a jumbled mess filled with a saving grace acting performance and not much else. That's right, hear it here: the movie that has gathered hordes of controversy and snatched the Golden Lion at Venice, and bear with me on this one, is not that good. Sure, people are going to claim that it is an avid portrayal of the average person in today's society, and that it is a brilliant art house film that has remastered the world of superhero cinema, but to me, it is none of that. I see Joker as a half-assed attempt for DC Comics to stay relevant in the adult-centered film landscape, by promoting this horrendous idea of incel culture on the way. And I know, you may be thinking that this is a biased review from yours truly, but keep reading. Let me explain why this movie is a mess, both structurally and metaphorically. The biggest joke about Joker is plainly that: the film is a joke in itself. The film tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a mentally struggling man with a condition for spontaneous laughter who sees the world as a grim yet comedic place. In the film, we follow Arthur as he is continuously thrown down again and again by society, only to begin to retaliate once a "friend" gives him a small handgun. As Fleck morphs into the "Joker", we get a first-hand view at how the supervillain grew as a person, and how his rabid fanbase grew with him. Joker is the grim origin story, an origin story that was not at all needed, about the iconic character people know and love. Let me start with what might be the best part (and the only great part really) of the film: Joaquin Phoenix's stellar performance as Arthur Fleck. From the start of the film to the end, you can really see the determination in Phoenix's acting as he truly tries to embody the character audiences have learned to love so dearly. He is a powerhouse actor, and it truly shows within a movie where he is basically the only thing keeping it afloat. The film gives Phoenix a chance to really shine, while basically aggressively shoving the supporting cast to the side. And that's where the problems begin to arise. The film has a stellar supporting cast, including half of the Atlanta main ensemble, and gives them what feels like a glorified cameo performance. The film is so self-reflexive and self-centered, too much for its own good, and focuses way too much on Fleck's downfall that everything else seems messily half-baked. The film chooses to eye a single dot within a whole spectrum, and by doing this, the whole thing seems way too minimal. The first hour of the film moves at a painfully slow pace, as we get a repeated theme of the world quite literally beating Fleck up. Every time he does something, he is ridiculed. Every time he encounters people, he is either getting mugged or made fun of. This constant cycle is almost painful to watch, but becomes quickly boring to witness, as it becomes evident early on that Phoenix is giving his all in a film with a script that just doesn't do the same thing. Diving deeper into the run-time of the film, there is a set of scenes, which I will not discuss in detail (as to avoid spoilers) that practically derails the narrative of the film, reaffirming it as the sloppy mess it really is. The pacing of the film is messy and uneven, leading to a shaky plot and an exasperated run-time that feels unsatisfying by the time the credits grace the screen. An even worse part of the film is the muddled message (or theme of the movie? Phillips' story barely makes sense anyways) of the movie, basically glorifying what happens within the mind of incels around the world. It seems as if the film really only exists to show the world that it is a "dark" movie, as if the audience didn't already realize this when they paid to see a movie about one of the film world's most evil supervillains. In total, Joker is too much nothing and too much everything at the same time. In some aspects, it finds its footing in the worst way possible, and in other, it just can't seem to find its footing at all. It is indecisive, indescribable, and at certain points, borderline unwatchable. But sometimes there is a hint of mad genius. And I know that this will come across as an unpopular opinion in every sense of the idea, but I don't know what to say about this movie, because in all honesty, there's not much I want to say about this movie. If you are judging it solely by art-house status and Joaquin Phoenix's performance, then it is a near perfect film. But once the questionable plot choices and muddled character expositions are brought into play, the film embodies what I think it truly is: a jumbled mess.