Joker ★★★½

Possibly the most controversial film of 2019; Joker is receiving polarizing reviews with comments like "incel anthem" and "disturbing masterpiece", has won the esteemed Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and is even making headlines with fears of shootings occurring at theaters playing the film. So did I love or hate the film? I thought it was fine.

There are a lot of things I enjoyed about Joker. For one, the overall presentation is very good for a superhero-tied movie. The cinematography was surprisingly awesome considering how the camera work is by Todd Phillips partner, Lawrence Sher. Dropping the generic 2000s comedy look and going for a more art-house drama style. Joker totes some solid shots that involve excellent use of depth fields, pans, and solid shots that stay stagnant throughout an entire scene; the camera work helps create an excellent atmosphere. On the topic of atmosphere, the color palette used also looked great and helped establish the dark world of a seedy Gotham City.

Now onto the big kahuna, Joaquin Phoenix. He does a phenomenal job as the soon-to-be Joker, Arthur Fleck. Phoenix channels a dark and disturbed personality as a man pushed over the edge by a world that doesn't want him. Arthur's body weight is disturbingly small as ribs and shoulders protrude out and unnerving body mannerisms like uncontrollable shaking and strange acts of dancing are utilized to show his deteriorating mental health. Possibly my favorite addition to this new incarnation of the Joker would be the laughing. The infamous Joker laugh is smartly written in to be a mental health condition in which Arthur laughs uncontrollably instead of crying out. This results in Phoenix tearing his lungs apart as he has moments laughter without being able to stop. Joaquin's performance truly elevates the film and you can clearly see how dissociated he is with the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, the main issue with Joker lies in the screenplay by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver. As many other people have mentioned, Joker follows a lot of the same beats that classic Scorsese character study films, Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, follows. So many times I noted to myself in scenes, "Yep, another Taxi Driver/The King of Comedy beat." Taxi Driver's narrative of downward spiral and The King of Comedy's late night show obsession is clear and present. So many scenes were beat for beat repetitions and it really started to bug me after a while. No spoils involved but scenes like Arthur pointing a snub nose at a TV and him projecting himself onto Murray Franklin's late night show just felt very rehashed. If you haven't seen Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, you will probably love Joker; yet it was a bugger to me, someone who has seen these films. Almost all of the characters are one-dimensional and only is in to be mean to Joker. We don’t have any character that adds moral ambiguities. It’s just Joker gets bullied by everyone. Todd Phillips also tries to dabble in some societal commentary that often times fails more than succeeds. The overall gray area presented with mental health worked in how I often debated with my mind in how I feel "Arthur is a terrible person!" but later on I think "Oh god poor Arthur." That aspect works, however the social class commentary just made me groan. Ham-fisted commentary like wealthy citizens laughing at a presentation of Modern Times, a Charlie Chaplin satire on the working class and Arthur being lifted out in a Messiah-esc style screamed of Todd Phillips shouting out obvious imagery of how "the rich are evil" without any subtlety involved. Honestly, the narrative of "one bad day' from The Killing Joke would work as a much better Joker origin story.

Overall, a fine character study; Joker boasts a wonderful aesthetic and Joaquin Phoenix performance, yet the screenplay treads too many familiar beats and tries too hard at a deeper message.

99th logged film! Stay tuned for my 100th logged film on Letterboxd: Citizen Kane!

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