Joker (2019)

Why does this movie exist? Who does it exist for? Why do people love it so much?

These questions reverberated inside my head as it played in front of me. I was waiting for a moment where I would be awestruck, blasted by its sublime genius that so many people had trumped up or maybe even worried by the philosophy that so many people were worried about.

I felt absolutely nothing.

Joker might seem like a good movie if you’ve never seen Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy. But here’s my struggle. Those movies have something to say. Something to prove. They aspire to be art when this film is simply commerce.

If you think this is a good film, tell me what it has to say. Tell me the meaning of it and why it exists other than, “The Joker is cool” or “This is the Joker’s origin story.” What is the purpose of watching a man’s horrible life that never gets better and only gets worse and then the lives he touches get destroyed along the way.

I mean, is it a cliche to use that sound and fury signifying nothing quote when this movie is so rote that it uses the song “White Room” in perhaps the most obvious of ways? Nothing is unexpected. Nothing is unique. This movie is the definition of wallpaper, albeit wallpaper bought by a tween at Hot Topic because they desperately yearn for something, anything, to make them seem different than the herd while mooing their way through the fields of utter boredom.

Director Todd Phillips started his career by directing Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies while he was still a junior at NYU. His second film, Frat House, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance before HBO bought it. It never aired, as many of the film’s particpants claimed they were paid to enact the scenes in the movie.

A third film, the Phish-following Bittersweet Motel, was his last documentary before making the movies Road Trip and Old School for producer Ivan Reitman. His career since has been a series of successes, like Starsky & Hutch, School for ScoundrelsDue Date and The Hangover series.

Which brings us to this movie.

It’s written by Scott Silver, who wrote 8 Mile — good — and X-Men Origins: Wolverine — bad. He also wrote The Fighter, which won him an Oscar nomination.

I always feel like you should say something nice first.

So here’s goes.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is great. It’s acting desperately searching for a better movie to be in. His goal was to play a character that audiences couldn’t identify with — that seems odd for the main role in a movie — studying assassins instead of people who had played the Joker before.

He plays Arthur Fleck, who starts out the film as a party clown and aspiring stand-up comedian who lives with his mother Penny (Francis Conroy, every season of American Horror Story). A disorder causes him to laugh out loud for no reason and he depends on the government for his meds.

An attack while working as a clown leaves him needing a gun, a gun that falls out of his pocket while working in a children’s hospital. He also begins dating his neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beats, who was in Deadpool 2 and Slice) and finds that a video of him on stage has gone viral, ending up on his favorite TV program, The Murray Franklin Show.

The fact that Robert DeNiro is inversing his The King of Comedy role, playing Jerry Langford instead of Rupert Pumpkin, is the type of creativity normally reserved for college freshmen who believe they are the first people to ever read Herman Hesse.

Arthur is beaten up by three drunken Wayne Enterprises businessmen. He shoots two of them in self-defense before feeling so good about himself that he kills the third. This leads to Thomas Wayne — who Arthur’s mother believes is her son’s father — denouncing whoever did this killing as a clown.

Soon, people are rioting in the streets wearing clown masks and Arthur is finally feeling like his life has meaning. However, two Gotham cops visit his mother, looking for the killer of the businesmen, and she has a stroke. This causes Arthur to either go off the deep end or become sane, as his meds have run out. He realizes that he has no girlfriend and that everything in his mind has been a lie.

This brings him to The Murray Franklin Show, where he embraces the name The Joker, inciting another riot that also leads to Joe Chill killing the Waynes inside Crime Alley after a showing of Zorro The Gay Blade. Yes, that really happens.

Another potentially crazy person was angered by this movie. Jared Leto, who portrayed the Joker in Suicide Squad and reportedly sent used condoms and dead rats to his co-stars, was alienated and upset by the fact that Warner Brothers was making a Joker movie without him. He even left his agents over this and attempted to get people to cancel this movie.

I’ve heard words like groundbreaking and Oscar being thrown about because of this movie. As a society, we’ve really devalued those two words, huh?

This is a movie that may not even be about the real Joker. It might not even connect to anything. And it’s a movie about a man forgotten and thrown away that becomes somebody before being nobody. It’s also a waste of two hours of your time.

Man, I should work in some other nice things. The cinematography feels large in scope, when so many other films seem small these days. I also loved seeing the old Warner Brothers logo.

I mean, this won the Gold Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It also had an eight-minute long standing ovation.

I sat there waiting, hoping, struggling to find one moment of entertainment and relevance and walked away saying, “That was a movie.” It should be something more.

Instead, I’ll have to see people wearing this costume and thinking it has some significance. These are the same people who think naming the comedy club “Pogo’s Comedy Club” is daring because it references John Wayne Gacy instead of hammer soft irony.

We deserve better and have become so mired in the dross that we think that movies like this are worth something. I’m not being an elitist — I love popcorn films and if you read this site you know I have a soft spot for Italian horror and 80’s slashers — but when I see something that is shit, I have to call it the purest shit I’ve seen in years.

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