A mentally ill clown aspires to be a comedian, but slips slowly
into madness once he realizes society has turned its back on him.
Directed by Todd Phillips
Written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler
Based on characters from DC Comics
Oscar Wins - Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix),
Best Original Score (Hildur Guðnadóttir)
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
Many people know Todd Phillips from comedies like The Hangover, Old School, Road Trip, and Due Date. These have a distinct tone and style that have created quite the career for the Brooklyn native. That's not where I got my introduction to the director of Joker. My experience was a lot more gritty, despicable, offensive, and insane. I am referring to his 1993 documentary Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies. Josh, what does that have to do with Todd's latest film about an iconic comic book villain? I'm glad you asked!
I believe there are some parallels thematically that tie one of the most infamous rock n rollers to the Clown Prince of Crime. The Hated documentary follows GG on a jailbreak tour (Phillips bought Allin a bus ticket from Michigan to New York, breaking his parole to shoot the film) to capture the madness and mayhem that has become the stuff of legend. The tour would be GG's last as he died just days after the film premiered of a heroin overdose.
It's strange to consider that watching a film like that can allow you to almost sympathize with this man who was, for all intents and purposes, a deplorable person. Phillips unflinchingly showed everything about GG: the good shit, the bad shit, and literal shit. I would describe parts of it but they have to be seen to be believed. And you also saw two brothers who made it out of a terrible childhood (an abusive, extremely religious father) together playing music together, which is strangely beautiful given the subjects.
So, why did I ramble about a seemingly unconnected film to this recent behemoth of the box office? The way the viewer (or maybe just me and my wife as we watched) is held so close to Arthur Fleck's point of view that you feel terrible for the way life figuratively and literally kicks the shit out of him constantly. All credit to Joaquin Phoenix for a stellar performance and I hope he ate all the sandwiches after production wrapped...that's commitment! It's the humanity Todd Phillips injects into the soon to be Clown Prince of Crime that has you almost feeling sorry for him and rooting for him to have his day. I know I was torn at times watching him struggle just to make it to a meeting with his counselor only to have his one life line cut which sends him over the edge. In a genre that has become bloated with well worn tropes and origin stories, Joker has set itself apart from the rest as it focuses on an infamous character and dares you to root for the bad guy.
I even loved the little twist thrown in that Arthur was adopted so his name isn't really what we were led to believe which ties in nicely with his murky past. The fact that we're shown he is an unreliable narrator only strengthens Phoenix's performance and the writing/directing of Todd Phillips. Though I wish I could have seen it in theaters, I am glad that I got to see this outstanding film. If you're feeling brave, watch Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies and tell me you can't see a little of Mr. J in Allin. Just don't come at me after, I warned you.
What a movie. Bravo. Shortly after the announcement of this film, I was both skeptical and excited. An origin story of comics' most famous villain by a comedy director? Skeptical. Joaquin Phoenix playing the title role? Excited. As the release date got closer, my excitement grew, and my skepticism ceased. An R-rating mixed with what looked like a movie which would challenge the notions of what a comic book movie is capable had me impatiently awaiting its release. I was scared for a bit, though. Controversy would erupt right before its premiere with some theaters threatening not to show the movie. Luckily, it would not affect it as the film is proving to be a huge success so far.
Much like Logan did in 2017, Joker takes that to whole new heights. Instead of doing a movie tied to a larger universe which follows roughly the same structure as the other 20 something odd films, Joker goes for an intense character study on a classic villain. Before tomatoes are thrown my way, I love the MCU. I love what Marvel's done for comic book movies but experimentation is welcome. It’s what helps keep it fresh. Hence, why Joker is such a breath of fresh air. It’s its own standalone film that transcends the genre. Something which is helped by Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. He completely owns the film and is mesmerizing to watch. Even his laugh is done so well. The film also does a great job of feeling like the Joker himself is telling his version of his origin story. You don’t know what to believe in this movie. Finally, I got to give some kudos to Todd Phillips. Primarily known for his more comedic films, he knocks it out of the park here. I hope to see him do more stuff like this.
Other than a certain obligatory scene near the end involving a young Bruce Wayne, Joker is an amazing film. Inventive, captivating, and original in its direction, this is what future comic book films should look at for inspiration. Joker shows what comic book films are capable of being. Now, let’s put a smile on that face.
Joker is one of the most highly anticipated movies of the fall season, and for good reason. It's a standalone reimagining of comic books' greatest supervillain, the Joker. But this film is unlike any Joker we've ever seen before. This is a Joker that was once a very lonely, mentally unsound man named Arthur Fleck. He dreamed of being a comedian, but his inability to fit in with the rest of society has left him at a tipping point. This is how Arthur went over the edge for good and became the infamous Joker, in a completely original story by Todd Phillips.
Joaquin Phoenix delivers the performance of his career as Arthur Fleck, delivering a physical, mental, and emotional performance that borrows bits and pieces from other cinematic Jokers but remains something all its own. Phoenix gave this one his all, and come awards season, I hope the Academy realizes that. He's joined by an all-star supporting cast including Robert De Niro as talk show host Murray Franklin and Zazie Beetz as Arthur's neighbor Sophie. We have rarely gotten to see the man behind the clown when it comes to the Joker, but this time, the character is oddly sympathetic and on some level, you understand what drove him to madness. But the film never takes the final step towards calling him an antihero, which I was very happy for. Todd Phillips brought something new to the character, but he never compromised who the Joker was at heart: A monster.
Joker is going to anger some people. It will freak out others. It's not for the faint of heart, and certainly isn't for kids expecting a Batman movie. There's enough Wayne in this film to please the Batfans though, and that's pretty neat, but it stands apart from all the other DC material as a crime drama akin to Taxi Driver. But if this film does drive someone to commit some unthinkable act, let it be known that it is asinine to blame the movie for someone's easily influenced, already unstable mental state. Let the art stand on its own.