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A man finds meaning in life through his love for dance.
I am quite ambivalent about the Joker movie, so don't expect a glowing review from me. First, let me say that Joaquin Phoenix's performance is unimpeachable. And sure, the picture's look is strong, with Gotham City being played by a well-reproduced 1970s New York. But I have two problems with the flick, and they bothered me well beyond the 2-hour experience. First is how derivative it is. Todd Phillips' hard-on for 70s cinema is obvious, and at his most clever, he uses the Exorcist stairs to evoke something (well, almost, we'll get to that), but otherwise, as everyone's said, he's doing Scorsese (in particular Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy), but also Fight Club, Frank Miller (ugh, can't we get away from Year One's specifics even once in these movies?), and a couple seasons of Gotham. In fact, I often felt like this was just a Gotham episode writ large. The other more important problem is that Joker pretends to have a message, or messages, but it's really not about anything (so the very meaning of the word "pretentious"). It never closes the deal on anything it might have to say. It's not really about we treat the mentally ill, because it's ultimately a cartoonish and negative portrayal of mental illness. It's not really about the making of a serial killer, as it's so keen on Joker staying sympathetic, it avoids any real shock to the audience's system (and does a hit job on the Waynes so he can never ever stop being a victim no matter what). It's not about how we should be kinder to one another and punch up rather than down, because the film itself makes fun of a minority character in a "punch-down" kind of way, a darkly comic moment that is sadly one of the only moments of comedy in the film. Because it's not a comedy, not even a dark one, and Joker's line about his life that's in the trailer comes out of left field and isn't earned. It's not even really a subversive Joker origin story, chickening out of its twist connection between Joker and the eventual Batman (then still polluting Batman's origin story by not understanding the power of its simplicity as part of a by-that-time interminable coda because WE NEED THAT MONEY SHOT! No we don't). Hey, I would probably have criticized that too, but at least it would have meant Joker completed a pass on SOMEthing. I think the film is actually summed up in the preachy but confused scene where Joker denies twice that he's not political and doesn't care about anything, as bookends to a sermon that's entirely political. I kept waiting for the movie to decide what it was about, but it isn't about anything but itself as a product (look at me! I'm a serious alternative to MCU-type, four-color action comedies!). Whatever dude, I'm not buying it.
Joaquin Phoenix turns in a stellar performance, several interesting themes are explored, and there are quite a few plot twists in the middle of the film. It is a sophisticated picture, but not an especially deep one. The movie is oddly hesitant to commit itself to its own themes. At times the message seems to be that rich people are evil and capitalism is to blame for all of society's problems. At other times it is critical of mob rule and casts Joker as a dangerous anarchist sowing destruction and misery. I think the attempt was to make Joker a nuanced character and make it difficult to say for sure whether he's a hero, villain, or victim. But pulling off such subtly takes extreme writing talent, which is just not present here. The end result is a film that contradicts itself and says little of substance. It is still worth a watch though, because as a character study it is excellent. As a critique of any major issue, it fails.
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