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Joker | movie review

Laugh and the world laughs with you.


Movie summary: In Gotham City, mentally troubled comedian Arthur Fleck is disregarded and mistreated by society. He then embarks on a downward spiral of revolution and bloody crime. This path brings him face-to-face with his alter-ego: the Joker. (IMDb)

I'd put off watching Joker for a long time because a lot of the criticisms I'd seen made it sound like a movie I wouldn't enjoy that much, which ultimately proved to be true. I don't think this is a bad movie, because anything featuring an incredible performance like Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck could never be bad, but I don't think I could recommend it as anything other than a Phoenix admiration piece either.

And make no mistake, Joaquin Phoenix is by far and away the star of the show here, showcasing just how fantastic he is even when playing a character featuring in a mediocre movie. If it wasn't for him being such a magnetic presence on-screen, my opinion of this movie would be far, far lower than it is, because nothing else here particularly stands out as being worthy of praise.

In fact, thanks to how the movie continues a big-screen trend of the abused becoming abusers and the mentally ill becoming murderously violent, Joker falls back on tired, stale story-telling and seems content to let Phoenix work his magic. Those story-telling tropes could've worked if handled with enough care, but they're really not and it does feel dismissive of a whole host of people who feel stigmatised enough as it is as result of suffering from poor mental health and/or dealing with abuse.

I don't think it really works as a Joker movie either, instead feeling very much like a typical story about someone 'going crazy' and starting killing dressed up as a comic book adaptation, which director Todd Phillips has already admitted is pretty much the case. Much like some older comic book adaptations, the movie feels almost embarrassed of its source material and is constantly trying to play it down.

The problem with that approach is that you really better have something to say with the story you're telling and Joker really doesn't. It tries to position itself as being the 'haves' versus the 'have-nots', but that particular narrative thread never flows particularly smoothly, feeling forced, artificial and only existing to almost justify Fleck's descent into murderous insanity.

The biggest issue I had with the movie is that it just didn't hold my attention at all, and I found myself often wondering how much more I had to sit through before it was over. Again, the plot felt so forced that you could predict how things were going to end from very early on and I was just left waiting to get there, with only Phoenix's performance to entertain me en-route.

If you're a fan of Joaquin Phoenix or simply want to watch one of the best actors working right now drag a movie up from being bad to serviceable mediocrity through sheer force of will, then Joker is the movie for you. Apparently, a sequel is on the way at some point - or Warner Bros and Phillips would like there to be one considering how much money this film made - which could be interesting to see if Phoenix is given a better movie to match his considerable talents.

Joker is a fine showcase for Joaquin Phoenix's incredible talent as an actor, but little more than that - especially when taking to the account that this is borderline 'Joker in name in only' territory. The story isn't much to speak about despite clearly thinking that it's saying very important things, all while continuing to perpetrate a hurtful view of the mentally ill.

[5/10 - Average]



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