After all’s said and done, the main takeaway from 2019’s Joker movie is this: that’s it? All the media hubbub and “controversy” turned out to be little more than clever marketing on the part of its director, Todd Phillips, and studio, Warner Bros., intended to promote a movie far more interesting than the one showing in theaters. If that isn’t smart, if unethical, then I don’t know what is. Now that we’ve got it, we can see clearly that Joker is a nothing movie.
Set in the early ’80s in Gotham City, Joker follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a mentally ill man who works as a clown, takes care of his sick mother, and just tries to survive the day-to-day grind that comes from being one of the city’s many impoverished. The film’s inciting incident comes from Fleck, already having a rough day, gets beaten up by a trio of young Wayne Enterprises businessmen while wearing his clown outfit—and shoots them in retaliation. This makes headlines and inspires many other people to start rioting and protesting while also wearing clown outfits. They begin to “rise up,” if you will.
So, basically, it’s a rich vs. poor story that you’ve seen better elsewhere. Fleck feels, rightly or wrongly, that he’s been mistreated by society, eventually deciding that it’s time to do something about it. It’s a Joker origin story, after all—you’re expecting, going in, that the protagonist is going to do some bad things. And Fleck does, eventually. Most of the film attempts to show, in one way or another, the problems of the city and how they directly impact Fleck.
The film wants—and that’s an important word to note—to be about the society in which Fleck lives, how it’s broken and needs to be put right, and all that fun stuff. And if it were smarter and less of a hollow shell that’s imitating better movies from the ’70s and ’80s, it might get there. Instead, its point gets lost along the way. The movie doesn’t have much of a perspective on the issues or a point to make; it just raises the issues, shrugs its shoulders, and shoots a couple of people hoping that the resulting chaos will solve it—or, at worst, entertain.
It doesn’t. Joker‘s a slog from start to finish, especially once you begin to realize that it isn’t going to do much to address the heavy subject matter it brings up. And Joker has a lot that it could say; it’s just not being made by people interested in doing anything more than a couple of “ha ha gotcha” shocks. It’s atmospheric, if nothing else, and has a score to go along with that. It’s just hard not to want it to do … something. Something that makes the months of (seemingly intentional) bad press to be worth it.
The main highlight is Joaquin Phoenix, a tremendous actor who is good here. Given how little there is to Arthur Fleck, it really is a performance worth of applause; he does a lot of work without much to go on. The subtle mannerisms are especially impressive. The other actors are mostly wasted; you have Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, and Frances Conroy in relatively significant roles and do nothing with them and it goes to prove how much waste there is in this production.
The greatest magic trick Joker ever pulled was getting its potential audience to care about it. All the controversy it managed to drum up for itself, and this is what we’ve got? Fine. This is a vapid excuse for a movie; a cheap imitation of significantly stronger movies from the ’70s and ’80s. It brings up ideas but does nothing with them, its protagonist is ultimately rather hollow, and there’s just massive amounts of waste at seemingly every level of production. What a joke.
Conclusion: Joker is a failure.
Recommendation: I can’t imagine a reason to watch Joker.
- Rating - 3/103/10