WHY SO SERIOUS?
Movie Review – Joker
Review by Ray Schillaci
This is possibly the hardest review I’ve had to commit to. After seeing Todd Phillips’ Joker, I felt like I needed to be committed or at least get a good cleansing. I can appreciate his Scorsese-like interpretation of one of the most beloved DC villains. But, at the same time, I have no desire to ever see it again. Phillips’ telling of the spiral downfall of Arthur Fleck, portrayed magnificently by Joaquin Phoenix, is so bleak that it nearly makes Scorsese’s Taxi Driver appear to be a far happier tale of mental illness and the dissemination of a society’s downfall. In other words, Gotham goes to hell with the clown prince dancing away with his minions.
We have not seen such a love letter to a filmmaker since J.J. Abrams genuflected to George Lucas with The Force Awakens. In other words, there would be no Joker movie without the maestro that gave us Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. The big difference, for me, is that most of Scorsese’s films are worth repeated viewings while Joker is not. In fact, one could actually surmise that Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker is far better than the film itself.
There are some that will argue that the film meanders a half hour too long, that Phoenix and Phillips are self-indulgent and overkill the portrayal of Fleck’s unraveling, and that the echoes or homages to previous Scorsese films are too obvious. All these arguments are justified to a point, for both star and filmmaker walk a fine line between brilliance and creative forces out of control. This film is far from a comic book movie, and perhaps that was the point. But, at times one cannot help wonder did they have to take it to such extremes?
The film opens with Arthur preparing his clown makeup along with others as sign spinners in front of storefronts. Immediately, we can see that Arthur is damaged goods. He’s socially awkward and stands out like a sore thumb amongst the other clowns. He suffers from a condition of uncontrollable laughter in which he hands cards out to people when it comes on at the most inappropriate times.
Add to that, he has delusions of becoming a standup comic and eventually landing a spot on the Murray Franklin show which he watches with his sickly mother that he lives with and takes care of. Franklin is an obvious take on Johnny Carson. On top of this mental trash heap, Arthur puts up with his mother perpetually sending letters to millionaire Thomas Wayne, constantly expecting a response back. And, Arthur’s therapy with a social worker is slowly descending to oblivion with only the seven drugs or so holding him together.
After a series of unfortunate incidents, Arthur slowly descends down the rabbit hole when he commits his first act of murderous rage. Worse than that, there are those in society that applaud him, making the clown a hero of sorts. The violence in this film is shocking. The portrayal of mental illness and what we’ve become as a society that makes people feel invisible is spot on. As far as social statement, Phillips and his writing partner Scott Silver not only nail it, they slam the hammer down continuously. It’s exhausting, and yet some out there will find it exhilarating. There are not only shout outs to Scorsese, there is also a reminder of 1974’s Death Wish.
At the center of it all is Joaquin Phoenix’s near revelatory turn as a man on the edge slowly tipping over and it is mesmerizing. I cannot recall an actor that made so much use of his body movements to embolden such a character. At the same time, he makes us feel so uncomfortable in Arthur Fleck’s skin that he is often difficult to watch.
Todd Phillips’ Joker is not only divisive, daring, and shocking (at times), his film challenges the audience. From his happy-go-lucky credits to the toe-tapping musical tunes that accompany all the madness, this may very well be a film reflecting the sad times we live in. Does it reach the cult status of a Fight Club or artistry of Taxi Driver? No, this film is more in your face and under your skin. Phillips and company made it a point that you will not have a good time or expect a sequel that includes Batman. This is a tale of destruction of a human soul and all that it effects. Is it effective? Yes. Is it worth seeing on the big screen or in the comfort of your home? You will have to be the judge. I’m still pondering that last question.
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Release Date: October 4, 2019
Run Time: 122 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers