Joker (2019)

joker poster 2019 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great looking, Joaquin Phoenix

Muddles some ideas and concepts by introducing the comic book aspect

Movie Info

Movie Name: Joker

Studio: DC Comics

Genre(s): Comic Book/Drama

Release Date(s):  August 13, 2019 (Venice Film Festival)/October 4, 2019 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

joker joaquin phoenix mugging

It’s hard out there for a clown

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a man on the edge.  He works as a clown, takes care of his mother (Frances Conroy), and is trying to be a stand-up comedian while dealing with multiple mental illnesses.  Cut off from his funded healthcare and medication, Arthur suddenly finds himself unemployed and questioning everything he thought he knew was true about his life when tragedy strikes…and it could be the best thing that ever happened to Arthur.

Directed by Todd Phillips (who also helped write the film with Scott Silver), Joker is a comic book drama.  The film is based on the Batman villain and received criticism upon its release due to the film’s violent tone and idolization of the character.  The film was released at the Venice Film Festival where it won the Golden Lion.  The film was released to largely critical praise and a massive box-office release.  The film led the Academy Award nominations winning for Best Actor (Phoenix) and Best Original Score with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing.  The film also received a Razzie nomination for Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property.

joker murray show robert de niro joaquin phoenix

Living the dream…literally

I am a comic book fan, and Joker upset non-comic book fans and comic book fans alike due to the conversations that swirled around it.  It is in those conversations and the tone of the movie which helps elevate Joker above a lot of its contemporaries…but it also can kind of blur the film’s message.

The movie is basically a comic book movie at heart…it has a comic book “villain” and involvement of Bruce Wayne, his father, his mother, and even Alfred Pennyworth.  This is where the comic book ties almost end.  You have a movie that is primarily a drama about mental illness and the failings of the system linked arm and arm with this comic book set-up.  For people who believe that comic book movies are popcorn and fun, this diminishes some of the message because they might not see it.  For those who want a comic book movie, an art house presentation of a classic villain without the flash and visuals of something like Avengers or even The Dark Knight.

joker murder joaquin phoenix

All the medicine or white paint won’t fix what you’re doing

The movie is really a condemnation about the treatment of mental illness, and the even more current trend of elevating people into heroes without considering the consequences or if they can handle it.  Arthur knows he’s sick, people recognize he’s sick, his meds aren’t working anymore, he’s been cut off from counseling, and he has easy access to a weapon…it is a bad combination.  The people turn the subway killer into a hero and this further inflates Arthur’s delusions that it is a sign of acceptance.  It’s a vicious circle that feels appropriate in this day and age where YouTube stars shoot to fame (and a number have been taken down by past digressions).

The film works because of Joaquin Phoenix.  Joaquin plays unbalanced well (like in The Master) and draws allusions to Peter Lorre’s serial killer from M with his smile play in the mirror which also tried to explore some of the roots of mental illness.  The character and script borrowed heavily from Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, but it is almost also what happens to Bickle after the end of the film.  While Bickle wasn’t getting mental help and did what he did as a result, Joker was getting help and the failure of that help contributed to the bad results.

joker joaquin phoenix steps scene gary glitter

Smile and the whole world smiles with you

Phoenix has great back-up in Robert DeNiro as the Johnny Carson-type talk show host (which is also a throwback to The King of Comedy) and Frances Conroy as Fleck’s equally disturbed mother.  Zazie Beetz has a small but important role to demonstrate the depths of Fleck’s condition and the movie also features new performers portraying classic comic book characters Brett Cullen (Thomas Wayne), Carrie Louise Putrello (Martha Wayne), Douglas Hodge (Alfred Pennyworth), and Dante Pereira-Olson (Bruce Wayne).

The movie has a great throwback look that also mimics Taxi Driver and Scorsese’s early films.  It gets the grimy horror and dirty look that made those movies successful.  This combines with a soundtrack emphasizing the character’s obsessions and sicknesses.  A big criticism was drawn by the use of convicted pedophile Gary Glitter’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll (Part 2)”, but I would feel more critical of this if I didn’t hear high school and college bands play it all the time without more judgment.

joker joaquin phoenix make-up talk show

What’s the joke?

Joker will not be for everyone (and it definitely is not for kids or younger viewers).  The whole film is presented as a possible mind-game if you look at in some ways (especially considering the last scene in a very American Psycho-esque moment).  It is the type of movie that challenges you while watching it because you have to keep recognizing that you are watching a film about a mentally ill character.  Joaquin Phoenix is hypnotic in the film and gives one of his best performances which both enhances the story and builds more criticism for the idolization of killers without looking at the faults and potential solutions to prevent tragedies from happening.  What do you do when the pills don’t work or stop working, what do you do with a person who could potentially commit a crime but is on the street because he or she hasn’t?  Those are questions posed by Joker that society needs to answer…and at least Joker is spawning more conversation about it.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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