22 May 2020
Full disclosure — I find most superhero films tedious. Joker isn’t a superhero movie as such, but despite all its efforts to stand out from the rest, it often falls back on the genre’s safety net. I found its desperate connection to the Batman character absolutely pointless. If it wanted to break ground, then Joker should have been a truly standalone film. It’s anything but.
We follow Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix in absolutely fine form), a loner with ambitions to become a stand-up comedian and be featured in the popular late night talk show of one Murray Franklin, played by Robert DeNiro. The problem is Arthur isn’t very funny and he has a condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably in the most unfortunate settings. Arthur also works as a clown, but he’s not really good at his job either. Coupled with his condition, he is more often than not a target of ridicule and violence. Oh, he is also in love with his neighbour.
Now, the eagle-eyed reader would have seen many connections to two of Martin Scorsese’s vastly superior films here. And, yes, unfortunately it’s not easy to ignore the simialrities to both Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, both of which of course featured DeNiro in the lead. Sadly, when both films spent plenty of time to really get to know its peripheral characters and the overall context of their stories, Joker is only interested in Phoenix’s acting nous.
He is really good here and it’s definitely one of the best performances of his career, but the film doesn’t seem to be interested in his arc. It knows where it wants to go, but it refuses to develop it in an organic fashion. Whilst the first 30 minutes or so are mildly interesting, it quickly descends into a borefest.
Politically it’s completely ridiculous, but I don’t see how this will inspire the incel movement to become mainstream. It’s a spineless film with nary an original idea in it.
It’s not terrible, though. The cinematography by Lawrence Sher is absolutely beautiful — this is the most realistic Gotham to date. The period detail is spot-on and as mentioned Phoenix is really impressive here. But those are supporting a hollow story with no heart or soul. All in all, it’s just another superhero movie.