Let’s cut to the chase, this is a bad film. I did not like it. Which was really disappointing because I really wanted to love it, and from the trailers I really thought I would love it. I’m a big, big Joaquin Phoenix fan, as everyone is, and I thought Todd Phillips was an interesting person to direct. All the press junkets leading up to the film were encouraging, Phillips seemed passionate about the film and seemed like he’d put a lot of effort into it. And I think there lies the problem for me. I’ll get onto my deeper thoughts in a second. But let me just say, although I think this is a bad film, I don’t think it’s unenjoyable. To me, this was interesting, thought-provoking and somewhat enjoyable, but still just a bad, bad film.
So my main issue is just that this film tries to do everything at once. Simultaneously, Joker is a commentary on mental health, inequality of wealth, violence and mob culture, celebrity and media culture, childhood abuse, governement funding of healthcare and social class. Along with that it incorporates a bunch of DC easter-eggs (while also claiming to be a non-DCU film, despite the potential sequel…) and tries desperately to live up to The Dark Knight. That is just an impossible amount to do in one film, it really can’t be done. And inevitably, this film feels overcrowded, over-eager and in the end, irritating. And that’s a real shame, because there are good bits, there really are, but Phillips takes an interesting or well-done element, and thrusts it in your face until you just get annoyed. It’s desperate, eager-to-please filmmaking, sort of like a person you meet that is nice but just won’t leave you alone.
For example – Joaquin Phoenix lost weight for this film, did you know that? Probably, because it was in the press all the time, but it is truly impressive. But god, how many slow motion scenes did we need of his skeletal figure? We get it Todd, your main actor lost weight, it’s really remarkable, but showing it to us five billion times is not going to get him an Oscar. Phoenix is a legend, and fully commits to this challenging role. How can anyone follow Heath Ledger? Spoiler alert, they can’t, and that’s fine. Ledger has acted this part better than anyone ever will, and people need to accept that. He was in a near-perfect film, with an all-time great director, and was an all-time great actor, and did this part better than anybody has ever or will ever do it. Let’s get that out of the way. But Phoenix does his best with the role, he is really good. He acts a lot, and I think people have mistaken a lot of acting for amazing acting; he’s good, but to compare him to Ledger is just blasphemous. The fact is, his role sucks. This Joker sucks. He’s not scary, he’s just annoying. He’s not clever, he’s unstable. We don’t laugh with him, we laugh at him. The fact of the matter is, his part is not The Joker. It’s a brand new character. The Joker is clever, witty, and just scary and this character is not that. I guess this is more a film about “Arthur” than “Joker”, but this film would’ve been infinitely more likeable if it wasn’t set in the DC world at all, and was just an independent film. Imagine this Joker in a world with Batman. God help him, he’d get snapped.
Even the score, which I started off loving, just gets annoying. The endless screeching cello gets old around halfway through. The character of Arthur gets annoying too. Some of the moments meant to be creepy and scary were just weird and pretentious. Why did he get in the fridge…like seriously, can someone actually explain to me why he got in the fridge? It wasn’t creepy, it was just ridiculous. It felt like Phillips was almost putting together scenes from different films, as each scene seemed to be a different Arthur, dealing with a different social issue. Maybe that was a creative choice, but it didn’t work for me. I think the worst thing though was how the character just wasn’t likeable. Ledger’s Joker was darkly funny, violent and manipulated his way to get support, rather than actually fight himself. Even when he does fight, he uses dogs/nets to help him. But Arthur does nothing of the sort. He is not likeable, he does not even deliberately inspire his support, he is just passive. And before anyone gives me any rubbish that I’m missing the point, I’ve thought about justifications for all of this, and it doesn’t make it better. It just makes it pretentious.
The one interesting bit of the film is the blurred lines between fantasy and reality, and I found it fascinating. Some people have suggested that the entire film takes place in Arthur’s head. Christ I hope that’s not true. I think the film definitely blurs the lines, and I think it flits inbetween reality and fantasy. There are definite scenes that I believe are in Arthur’s head, including his climactic interview on Robert DeNiro’s show, but I think you could almost take any scene as fantasy and the movie works, and that’s pretty cool, so take your own personal view. There’s definitely no right answer.
In conclusion, there are the bones of a good film here. Zazzie Beats is great, but under-used. The links to the DC universe are cool, and work. And Joaquin Phoenix is actually good, he just got screwed with a really terrible part. I thought this film would be one of my favourite of the year. But it’s a clingy, pretentious, desperate-to-win-an-Oscar, overcrowded film that, without its cast would be almost unwatchable.
Best Scene: Any scene with Arthur and his therapist
Best Character: The therapist
Best Actor/Actress: Joaquin Phoenix
Best Quote: “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” – Arthur