Review: Joker (2019)

Joker (2019) Joker (2019)


I really tried with this one. I made it halfway. I’m not at all convinced the director of the repellent, mean-spirited bro-“comedy” The Hangover, Todd Phillips, is equipped for or interested in responsibly handling the art or the issues he chooses to evoke in Joker, as evidenced by the lack of any counterweight to the relentless self-pity within the film, and by his comments about “woke culture” without. And yet, compelling things can come from earnest emulation and dive-bombing into deeper-than-ye-reckoned waters, so… eh?

Given the discourse surrounding this film (not to mention the calls coming from inside the house), this is perhaps an odd comment: but what bugs me the most in Joker is its use of words. None of the dialogue sounds the way people talk – and it doesn’t seem intentional (though it might if everything is in Arthur’s head?). Critical exposition happens through written text (Arthur’s condition; his mother’s belief that Thomas Wayne is Arthur’s father), which we are forced to read in real time.

Joker also feels so clunkily, heavy-handedly manipulative. The character of Sophie (Zazie Beats) is too unrealistic for the “reveal” to work as, it seems, intended – and, more importantly, she isn’t the foil to Arthur that the film needs. This contributes to the framing of Arthur’s “revenge” as being unambiguously righteous, given the relentless series of beat-downs, literal and otherwise, he receives. Compare with Taxi Driver, in which Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is ultimately portrayed as neither complete victim nor unambiguous victor, which makes that film a more layered experience; and where Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) acts as a barometer by which Travis’s misanthropy can measured. Joker, by contrast, seems fixated upon the devices and aesthetics of that film and another Scorsese/De Niro film, King of Comedy, while lacking (or not understanding?) the purpose, function, or meaning of those devices and aesthetics within those films. A remix isn’t inherently bad or inferior, but it invites comparison, and risks an unfavourable one.

I won’t wade into the hullaballoo – thankfully, here’s Now You See It to sit on the fence, perhaps not beside, but somewhere near me:

Wait, what:

Further Viewing

While opinions of the movie vary, there seems to be universal praise for two elements: the performance from Joaquin Phoenix; and the cinematography of Lawrence Sher – who offers a 15 minute masterclass, accessible to beginners, on colour in film:

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