Joker (2019) Review

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A character study and social commentary about one of the greatest villains ever in comics and on screen. Joker is a standalone movie not connected to the connected universe of movies like Justice League, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. Instead it takes place in what appears to be the 70’s or 80’s and gives us a character in Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) who suffers from a disorder that causes him to laugh uncontrollably in certain instances. He has a job as a clown where he is hired out to perform for kids at a hospital or to twirl a sign on the street. Things start to go downhill for him when society starts to beat him down over and over again and just when you think his life couldn’t get worse, it does. This movie shows what it would be like for someone to not be able to handle the hardships in the society that we live in. It’s more of an opportunity for Joaquin to show off his acting chops than anything else. It has been a somewhat controversial movie, but with a general positive buzz around the quality and the performances. It did very well at the box office and has even garnered some awards buzz. It took me a while to getting around to seeing it, but I was finally able to have a chance to check it out and given the buzz, I was pretty excited to give it a shot and see if it really is as good as they say.

Joker in the simplest terms is not a “Joker” movie. Yes, the title is “Joker” and the character of Arthur Fleck is supposed to be showing us a version of Joker from their point of view and how a person like Fleck escalates into becoming the Joker, however I do not believe this is a true Joker movie. The few things other than the title and name that he asks to be called that make this movie even remotely connected to the comic character is the city being called Gotham and the addition of Thomas, Martha, and Bruce Wayne. Those are the only real connectors that make you think of him being the Joker from the comics. If you took those out then maybe you could look at this movie and wonder that maybe this is a route that someone could end up taking into becoming the Joker, but what they present is not necessarily a Joker movie. Of course some may say that I’m just saying that because it’s not my version of the Joker that I would want, but that’s simply not the case. I knew this movie was going to be hard to pull off as being a Joker movie because they weren’t going to have the other side of the coin to the Joker and that is Batman. I’m not saying that you need Batman to have the Joker, but it doesn’t have the same effect to not have Batman in there to feed off of the anarchy that is being caused. I guess the easiest way to say this is that it’s a “Joker” movie because they say so, but it’s not.

The biggest issue I have aside from the fact that they try to play it off as a “Joker” movie when it’s not, is that they seem to spend more time trying to push a social commentary or political agenda into this movie. Now I’m not getting into politics or anything like that and I’m not saying that what they are trying to express isn’t wrong from a certain point of view, but it’s very clear that this is a movie with a purpose that I believe also effects and hurts what they were going for. In focusing on a social commentary approach to make a statement with this character and the arc he goes through, you actually take away from the actual character you’re trying to create. It’s a difficult thing to juggle and explain in the right manner, but yes what happens to this character are all things that could happen to someone that becomes the Joker. The problem is that they spend more time coming up with the social commentary of things happening to this character than they do the actual development of the character into the Joker even though the movie is called Joker.

They spend a lot of time focusing on the violence and how society is what caused him to become who he is, but that’s also not the case. They also make it a point to highlight his mental illness as a major cause to why he falls as hard as he does due to the things that happen to him. I find both of these specifics being an issue, 1. It’s not society as a whole that does this to him. It wants to play it off as if it is, but it’s honestly just the unfortunate luck that he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now I’m not saying that these moments didn’t have an effect on him because they did, but they easily could have not happened. 2. The movie comes off as if it’s the mental illness that causes him to fall as far as he does. You could really look into this movie and study the effects of everything on a person. I don’t think it would only take somebody with mental illness to fall like that, but it would take a certain amount of mental issue to go as far as he does. There’s a lot of depth in this movie for sure and a lot to really unpack after watching it.

Overall though, I know it sounds as if I’m completely hating on this movie, but I’m not. It could be that my excitement for it was so high that I took a much harder look at it when watching it. This is a bad film and it’s a good film at the same time. I’m just about right down the middle with it. The story is very good, and really does give us an inside look at what would happen to someone in Arthur’s position. It does many things that are unexpected and makes you wonder what exactly is real that you’re watching and what exactly is just in his mind. The transformation is absolutely disturbing to watch and honestly is hard at some points to watch somebody turn as he does. I did enjoy many aspects of this film, but it also has a bigger overall problem with being more of a statement than that of a good movie. I really found an issue while writing this because there really isn’t that much to unpack without going into the actual message it’s trying to convey. The most notable thing about this movie by far is the performance of Joaquin who absolutely gave a force of a performance that could rival that of Heath Ledger. Both are very different versions of the same character, but Joaquin does it beautifully so I will be surprised if he doesn’t at least get nominated. I also can’t really recommend this movie to everyone because it’s not a movie that everyone will like. It’s also a very disturbing piece of work to watch that will make many feel unsettled.

Grade: B-

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