This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
radbot’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I wish the movie kept up the darkly comic aspect I saw in it during the first half. I think I'm probably seeing my own idea for the movie in it though.
When Arthur gets the sign stolen then beat up in the alley by those kids I thought it was funny in how absurd and unrealistic it was, and I assumed it was being played for laughs in a sort of tongue-in-cheek silly way, with the way he curls up on the ground and gets kicked. Then later when the cartoony comicbook-tier rich boys make fun of him and then beat him up in the same way, I thought the movie had this dark and silly type of comedy I hadn't seen before, but it never returns to this style of comedy and it makes me think Todd Phillips didn't intend it to be that way at all. The only other bit that comes close to this dark-silly style is when he kills the guy who gave him the gun and lets the midget live, but in typical Hangover fashion it beats this joke over your head as if you didn't get it immediately. It goes from serious moment to funny moment like a Marvel movie, where it should have played it seriously.
The movie goes from darkly comic to pretty much just dark towards the end, which is where it should have gone but it did it clumsily. I liked the unsubtlety in the beginning, because it fit in this dark-silly style, but towards the end it bordered on preachy (by then I had given up on the movie being dark-silly and it no longer worked for me)
Some other points:
* I liked how shit the writing was for Franklin's show, particularly when Arthur's standup tape was shown, where it was like "'Well, nobody's laughing now!' 'Uh, you got that right pal!" I saw it as making fun of garbage talkshow host comedy but I'm not sure how intentional that was
* I thought the Rock and Roll Pt. 2 scene where he's dancing on the stairs was genius and fits into the unsubtlely that I liked about the movie, the unsubtlety being that the song is played at pretty much every sporting event in America as a great spectacle of violence. And just the visual itself of him dancing is instantly iconic
* The dancing in general was great, my favorite moment in the movie is when he gets his stuff after being fired and it's super dense silly comedy, where he honks the horn, "forgets to clock out", changes the "don't forget to smile" sign to "don't smile" then kicks the door open like a goon after dancing down the stairs
* Deniro was pretty bad in this movie to the point where it took me out of it, like I said it was funny in the beginning then when it comes time for Arthur to be on the show the whole situation was too absurd for me
* Joaquin put in an insane performance, I liked the general feel of the movie with how gross it was and how it felt like you were looking into a messed up dollhouse, and Gudnadottir's score was perfect for it as well. Going in I wasn't expecting that good of a performance nor was I expecting it to be as stylish as it was, which makes me think that under the control of a better director this could have been greater than the sum of its parts
Going in knowing how Todd Phillips was inspired by King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, I was expecting it to be half clumsy retread and half interesting take on fame/attention with a focus on senseless violence wrapped up in a comic book movie, and that's pretty much what I got. One thing that made King of Comedy so great is its focus on justifying yourself to your former classmates, to prove them wrong for teasing you, etc, whereas Joker focuses more on abandonment from society and childhood trauma and less on the effects of being low status in the social ladder. I think if the movie was really trying to look into the mind of a school shooter or an Elliot Rodger-type, the likes of whom the media said would be emboldened by the movie, it would have leaned heavily into that aspect of King of Comedy, which it did not. Instead it focused mainly on "mental health", a magic word people like to invoke when they don't want to deal with the fact that society at large is broken, of which more therapy and social programs are just bandaids.
Which is interesting because the movie spends most of its time blaming Society for its issues. I get the impression that it's not just Arthur the character but the movie as a whole that says this. It seems at odds with the rest of the movie for them to blame it on lack of social program funding. This is where the movie's in-your-face unsubtlety comes to a head in an interesting way. It undoubtedly agrees that defunding social programs is an issue, because Arthur no longer gets his meds, setting the stage for him to go fully off the rails. But it also undoubtedly agrees that "it's getting crazier out there" with its senseless violence and poor vs rich rioting (which I haven't touched on at all but was also clumsily fit in). So I guess the ultimate message of the movie is really, "wat can u do?" But it comes around to this so clumsily it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. I'm not demanding answers, in fact the best films tend to ask questions without giving you any, but Joker doesn't seem to be asking questions so much as it's throwing its hands up in the air and shouting. Though there is some value in that.
In summary: dark, silly, clumsy, entertaining