a Quick Movie Review : Joker

Alright. Here we go. Just saw the film and going to jot some thoughts down (note: though I’m finally posting this about a month after writing this).

No editor.

One time viewing.

Yes SPOILER ALERT

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There’s a dance to the film, Joker.

Get it? Those of you who’ve seen the film?

A dance?

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Was that parallel a bit obnoxious?

That ultimately, even though you “get it”, the decisions made still feel a bit derivative and slightly awkward?

It’s as if I’m self-aware but not self-aware enough to see the big picture of what I’m doing.  Not able to see truly outside of myself.

And, obviously, that’s essentially what the movie felt like to me.

It reminded me of that ice cream shop in town.

They had weird flavors like pickle and jalapeno.

The idea was that they had goofy flavors.

The result was that they closed in a year.

So the question becomes clear:

What flavor did JOKER want to be?

As an acting piece for Joaquin Phoenix, it’s wonderful.

As a character piece as a film, it’s alright. But because it’s still ultimately tied to a comic book character, it ends up feeling forced and cheesy because it’s inevitably trying to explain and establish a well-known character.

There was an elegant dance that Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of the Joker character did that this film couldn’t. There was an understanding of give-and-take in Nolan’s vision and also an understanding of the film he was creating (and also a better understanding of the character and the appeals of the character. But that’s for another time).  There was a sense of relief to the breath of fresh air that Nolan’s writing brought that this film did quite the opposite of.

It shoved down my throat it’s own “cleverness” behind the “purposefully” blatant imagery and narrative until I chocked on it and died.

It believed that it exculpated itself by being self-evident that it’s the audience’s job to get the film.

We got it just fine. But it’s as if you imagined your highly promoted rated R rating was going to only be viewed by a bunch of ninth graders.

That Looney Tunes like ending was just the kick in my liver even though the film was, with all intent and purpose, going for my nuts. And as I’m groaning in pain on the ground—puking—the film didn’t even know why that kick worked. And it doesn’t care. It’s just happy that it did. It has faith that my nuts are right around my ribcage.

The thing is, even if we understand why we’re given every explanation for every quirk this famous comic book character has, that doesn’t mean it’s any less cliche or felt any less lazy and ridiculous.

Oh, he has a mental condition so he’s forced to laugh. I got it. 

Oh, he had a terrible parent and childhood. Of course, what self-respecting villain doesn’t. Check.

Oh, everything went wrong for him with his life choices until he became the villain. Right. Manifest that destiny, my friend. Check.

Ah, the whole plot seeming almost comically tragic is the point. How clever. That’s the joke. As if the tone of the film was any different, it’d be a black comedy.

WE GOT IT. HA.

But dare I say that the actual joke is that the film might have been cleverer, braver, and just better had it just gone strictly that route of being a comedy instead? Turn the whole film into a Wes Anderson-esque film or a Coen Brothers-esque film as if we’re experiencing the world as this mad man is experiencing it.

Just let us actually laugh and feel terrible about it.

When the tone of the film expects us to take it seriously, it forces us to observe it and take it in with a lens and stomach fitting that tone. So the at times beyond non-sensical and lazy plot points feel less justified and feel more half-assed.

And that feeling has a poignant exclamation near the end of the film when Joker, the character, himself doesn’t seem to know what the hell he is.

Is he a tragic man haunted by the demons beyond his control?

Or is he suddenly a political representation of an oppressed economic class in our society?

Why did that become a thing? Why was that necessary?

You were doing so well of carrying on your various plot points with some consistency. That was one decent thing you were doing in your writing.

Sure. The whole economic inequality and social turbulence serve as a backdrop but the whole character of Joker felt like he was developing into someone who was a victim of it but not really part of its evolution nor revolution—at least not by choice.

He was developing as someone whose madness and downfall into darkness was a machination of his own inner chaos. That the poverty was just one of many items on the long, screwed up list of what made his life go wrong. Especially by the way he seems to see it until that point in the film. Unaware of the greater effect he had on the Gotham’s economic revolt and generally uncaring of the revolution beyond the fact that it put him on the news.

Keeping that would have kept the character of Joker as a self-absorbed mad men who was like a sponge to his own psychosis and that ultimately led to his downfall. Which is what the movie was setting up the whole time.

His rise to becoming the leader of the disgruntled parts of society seemed like it should have been purely coincidental, accidental, and tragically—and unintentionally—opportunistic.

As if he was Forrest Gump who had different kinds of mental problems.

But that gets all thrown out the window in his surprisingly lucid rant about social inequality during his meltdown.

Fine. In some sense, the film could be trying to show us that as the “Joker”, Arthur (Joaquin Phoenix) finally got the courage to speak his mind and stand up to/for society. That as the “Joker” he actually sees things clearer.

But that still feels like an injustice to what the narrative was building towards.

And why is anyone in this universe taking Joker/Arthur seriously? How did the film justify that? Y’all were just laughing at this failed comedian days ago, brought him onto a talk show to mock him, and now after he commits a few murders on TV after going on a middle-schooler rant about societal injustice he suddenly inspires enough people to become the defacto figurehead and spark a revolt?

We’re just supposed to go, “yeah that’s how screwed up Gotham is”?

The pill is just too damn big, Morpheus. At least lubricate it first or give us a glass of water.

Again, this is probably due to the tone the film sets for itself that it’s asking for a higher standard from its audience than it’s ready to take on.

At this point, I should mention that I sound like I hated the film but I actually enjoyed a lot of it. The film is not without its merits.

I actually appreciated the poetic nature of Batman being born on the same day as the Joker. They built that up surprisingly well even when Bruce was a very minor character. To those who don’t know what Batman’s origin story is, the scene might have even been more poignant as they could see it as a boy losing his parents instead of seeing it as a famous comic book hero being born.

It was impressive that we got to see the full arc to the story of Thomas Wayne and those who are unfamiliar with the Batman lore could still appreciate the character for what he was in the film.

The way they balanced all the story arcs felt generally quite organic. That part of the writing was generally solid.

Not to mention, as I’m sure everyone has heard by now, there are breathtaking and captivating scenes and cinematography.

And Joaquin Phoenix did what Jared Leto wanted to do. Joaquin’s Joker felt so right as a version of the Joker and yet also added such meaningful flair of his own that his performance was as memorable as Heath Ledger’s performance in Christopher Nolan’s film. Unlike Jared Leto’s performance that felt like a teenager trying to do what he thinks makes the Joker cool and neat.

Leto’s performance felt like a parody of Ledger’s performance.

Phoenix’s performance felt like theater. It just felt like we were witnessing some good-ass acting and we were absorbed by it.

It’s unfortunate that this is another DC film that gets bogged down by not understanding its own tone and by trying to do too much without the finesse to pull it off.

But it’s also the second DC film that felt like a proper film experience (the other being Wonder Woman). However, I realized as I was watching it that I had a different opinion of the film if I was thinking of it as a Batman fan instead of just being a filmgoer. That review will be coming in the near future.

Thanks for reading you beautiful monsters.

Remember to eat your vegetables and Epstein didn’t kill himself.

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7.2 / 10



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