Film review: Joker (2019)

joker 2019.jpg

 

Sold as a more grounded comic book film, an origin story. While does have scenes of stand-up and plenty of laughter, Joker (2019) is at its core a dark psychological crime drama. The first live-action theatrical film in the Batman film franchise to receive an R-rating. A lot has been written already and Joaquin Phoenix’s intense performance is the reason to watch. Has a realism that humanizes the joker, he is not just a bad person but you witness a troubled life which the audience can empathize with. We see his pained laughter, sort of a mask in a world where he is not liked but desperately wants to be. The disconnect and distrust of people is there on the screen, for example in the bus scene, a comment on our society. Disappointingly, the supporting characters, even Robert de Niro, aren’t given much screen time and are almost cameos. It’s Phoenix’s show.

Joker has been described as ambiguous in terms of the mental illness Arthur suffers from but the story is actually heavy-handed, about a man who isn’t loved and has never been happy, which in terms of psychopath characterization is a cliché. I can understand why Joker has been criticized as depicts someone with mental health problems as a danger to others. Most mentally ill people are not dangerous and the film unfortunately sells the negative stereotype. The film is also controversial for portraying a sympathetic homicidal loner, and how the unemployed could use violence and the media to enforce revolution and revenge, against the society that let them down. But obviously the joker is not a heroic figure, he is a villain we get to known beneath the exterior. I like that the story tries to understand Arthur Fleck’s frustrations which I think is important so we can offer help to these people. That said, I did also feel the story tries to evoke an emotional response from the audience at every opportunity, so you could easily accuse the character study of being manipulative in its attempt to win our empathy.

You could argue the substance of Joker (2019) is the sum of its influences yet the commentary about the availability of guns and health care is highly topical. Society and the system is also the villain here, causing Arthur to lose his way. The Gotham media is also at fault. As the Guardian wrote “the Gotham press eagerly spins (…) first killings into a city-wide “kill the rich” class war”

Joker was partly inspired by Alan Moore’s graphic novels V for Vendetta (1980s) and Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), the latter depicts the Joker as a failed stand-up comedian. Taxi Driver (1976) and King of Comedy (1982) are two other influences. To me, doesn’t reach those heights, the supporting cast is not as memorable as those films, and we’ve seen 100 times before the victim of a troubled past. Scorsese’s films did not deliver easy answers.

To sum up, Joaquin Phoenix manages to put a fresh spin on the joker with his mannerisms and laughing at inappropriate moments, and the script does have some arresting quotes, even if the victim aspect feels a bit clichéd and manipulative. Phoenix’s performance differs from Ledger and Nicholson with more innocence, pain, and humanity, and his work deserves a higher rating than the film itself.

Favorite quote: ”Those who have made something of our lives will always look at those who haven’t as nothing but clowns”.

7/10

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

21 thoughts on “Film review: Joker (2019)

    1. @Courtney: I’m uncomfortable with films that manipulate/force the viewer to feel pity for a character. Although I agree the performance is outstanding. I hope these arthouse superhero character studies keep getting funded which looks likely with the box office success. Thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. @Brittani: To me, probably the most quotable film of the year:
      “I used to think my life was a tragedy, now I realize it’s a comedy”
      “When I was a little boy and told people I was going to be a comedian everyone laughed at me.Well no one is laughing now”

      I haven’t read The Killing Joke. I did read V for Vendetta which I rated 8/10

      Liked by 1 person

    1. @Sati: Robert de Niro’s role in Joker is smaller than I hoped. His transition to comedy since the 90s was unexpected. I’ll enjoy seeing him return to a Scorsese drama (although The Irishman is funny too according to Rotten tomatoes)

      Like

    1. @Rol: Watching Joker on TV would be fine though you may then miss out on uncomfortable audience laughter. Hopefully the joker’s laugh/crying condition isn’t contagious

      Like

  1. I rarely see films that get hyped to the extreme (so many times I just felt like I wanted to be watching something else). This one has my interest and not by the hype. The look, the, feel, the vibe. I think your take on the lead performance is also a reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @CB: The story does feel a bit derivative of Scorsese’s work yet I think Joaquin Phoenix manages to take the Joker character to emotional places that Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson didn’t.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My son (Big Earl) just seen it on the weekend and really liked it. Similar to your opinion. I never seen the Ledger film. The original with Jack was like a comic book/music video/cartoon camp thing. Fun at the time.
        I’ll being checking it out. I like dark and uncomfortable once in a while.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. For sure it’s darker than the tv show. It didn’t spare the violence that’s for sure. Might be a while before I get the the Joker but I will watch it. The only way I’d do a take is if it really grabs me. But I will comment back at your place.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I think we are on the same page with this film, in particular on minor characters which were there merely to dance around Joker and to serve the purpose of that main character. I also especially agree with your very insightful observation that “the story tries to evoke an emotional response from the audience at every opportunity”. The film so evidently wanted us to have this or that emotional response. There was no subtlety or the feeling that the movie simply and smoothly progresses on its own accord. There was control felt – i.e. our responses were “controlled”, “checked” and “directed”. I understand that the director is relatively new to shooting drama, but that is no excuse.

    I also agree with you that the victim aspect of Joker feels “derivative” and “manipulative”. It was so obvious where the script was going and the director/writer was obviously thinking – first we would induce all this sympathy for this misunderstood guy and then we suddenly make them all shocked when Joker does something totally “unexpected” – violence that would instantly distance audience from him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @dbmoviesblog: Thank you! Yes looks like we are on the same page. The supporting characters were not as fleshed out as I could have wished for and consequently weren’t that interesting. Joaquin Phoenix was given too much screen time and the other characters too few scenes. Phoenix’s performance deserved a better narrative which I agree was too manipulative in persuading the audience to feel a certain way about Arthur. I loved how quotable the film is though.

      Liked by 1 person

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