Review: Joker was just as bad as expected

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker

Hey, so, um, internet. What the fuck is going on?

For those you blissfully unaware, the internet has been set into a frenzy by a movie. Todd Phillip’s Joker was released at the Venice Film Festival to rave reviews, standing ovations and awards. It was then released to a general audience, and the critical reception has been a bit more tepid. Somewhere in between that, the internet lost its collective mind:

It’s a cinematic masterpiece. No, it’s an incel calling card. No, it’s a reflection of society! It’ll incite violence by incels! It’s racist? No, it’s not? It’s ART! Joaquin Phoenix is walking out of interviews! Todd Phillips says comedy is dead!

What the fuck is going on?

I feel like I’ve been hearing about this film since 2008! The hubbub for this film is worse than the Brexit negotiations.

Either way, I’m told SEO is up for Joker, so here we fucking go, let’s get that bread. After all that palaver, here’s the official Boshemia ™ take on Joker.

Joker bad.

It’s not bad because it’ll incite violence (despite the media practically begging for this to happen), or because it’s a cinematic Ben Shapiro manifesto. It’s bad because it’s a derivative, cynical, shallow meandering mess.

Joker tells the story of Rupert Pumpkin Travis Bickle Arthur Fleck, a downtrodden loner living in New York Gotham in the 70s. He works as a rent-a-clown, lives with his mother, has a crush on his neighbour (Zazie Beets) and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian like his hero, talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). He has a background of mental health issues and some sort of brain injury / neurological condition that causes him to laugh inappropriately. He also dances a lot (including to songs by a convicted paedophile) because Phillips thought it would look cool in the trailer. It doesn’t.

Phillips is trying to create a tragic story about how a downtrodden guy continues to get beat up by society and eventually turns to violence. Phoenix’s admittedly brilliant performance of a loner with mental health conditions sliding further and further towards violence and sociopathy is thrilling to watch. The performance is physical and grotesque, but also sympathetic at times. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t elevate the material. The dialogue is inducing, with ~dark, ~edgy lines like “maybe my death will make more sense than my life,” “what do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash,” and “all I have are negative thoughts.” I look forward to seeing the countless hot topic t-shirts that this’ll inevitably spawn.

(We get it, Phillips, we all had an emo phase.)

The script reduces mental illness to a handful of ~edgy phrases that’ll probably be used in countless Tinder bios  (swipe left). The movie clearly thinks that it’s dropping truth bombs about how terrible society is, but it’s not saying “society is bad,” it’s saying “society is bad to me”, which is a meaningless, self-important mess of a message for a movie to have. 

There’s also a very uncomfortable link between mental illness and violence. Joker implies that the mentally ill are inevitably prone to violence and that society is more at fault for this than anyone else. Yes, it makes a good point that we shouldn’t cut funding for mental health, but believe it or not, not everyone with mental health issues turn into violent psychopaths. There’s also a link between mental health and parental neglect which verges into spoiler territory, but is without a doubt the worst part of the movie. The Dark Knight and The Killing Joke postulated that anyone is just one bad day away from turning into the Joker; he’s a symbol of chaos because his backstory could be anyone's and that in itself is terrifying. Joker ignores that and claims that becoming the Joker is an inevitable side effect of mental illness and ~society.

(Editor here: yeah I know I could have used the quintessential 2018 Elon Musk-as-Joker meme but haven’t we seen enough already)

(Editor here: yeah I know I could have used the quintessential 2018 Elon Musk-as-Joker meme but haven’t we seen enough already)

To no one’s surprise, the grand total of two female characters aren’t exactly the most well developed. Frances Conroy plays Arthur’s mental ill wilting flower of a mother, and Zazie Beets plays the underdeveloped unwritten love interest. According to IMDb, her character is called Sophie, but I don’t recall that being mentioned in the film, and I’m not paying to see it again. Feel free to correct me in the comments. (Please don’t correct me in the comments, I really do not care). Sophie is a woman. She has a kid. That’s pretty much it. It’s obvious that Arthur is the only character that Phillips remotely cares about because everyone else is a thinly written walking trope, which lessens the “gritty realism” of the movie. The “we live in a society,” thesis would have hit harder if it actually created a real society with real people instead of cardboard cutouts.

Joker does have some strong points; the issue is that these strong points were basically copy-pasted from better movies. Todd Phillips really wants you to know that he’s a Scorsese fan. From the casting of Robert De Niro to the 70s New York-esque setting, the film evokes Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy. The issue is that both of those movies are much, much better.

Give Joker a skip and watch the aforementioned movies instead; not just because Joker is a misogynistic, racist, incel manifesto that will incite violence, but because it’s bad. Joker bad.