January 13, 2020

Joker (2019)

Joaquin Phoenix


Hey, remember when The Dark Knight came out and everyone was flipping out over how dark and gritty it was because it was an exciting shift from the typical "comic book movie?" God, I hope this movie signals the death knell for that. (Hint: it won't.)

Look, I'll fully admit I did not go into this movie with a whole lot of excitement. For one thing, another movie about the joker? At this rate his franchise is multiplying as quickly as Spiderman. For another, I just don't really get that jazzed about origin stories. They're just prequels with prettier titles. But I held out hope because well, Joaquin Phoenix.

I was not prepared for how much I loathed this movie. Like, temped to just straight up quit watching it, which you know I never do. I mean sure, it's not my style of movie, but I've certainly sat through worse. Somehow this one just got to me.

For one thing, it's just so goddamn boring. It's not necessarily the pacing, as I generally prefer a slow movie. But when you already know where it's going to end up? It's taking the scenic route for the sake of taking the scenic route. Except the scenery is just Joaquin Phoenox forced laughing and occasionally killing people.

I know one of the things people really loved about Black Panther was the complicated morality of the "good guy" vs. the "bad guy" and how really, anyone can see themselves as the good guy. I get that. And I appreciate it in certain circumstances. But in trying to craft a complicated backstory for the Joker, it feels like they instead tried so hard to make him sympathetic. Which like, sure, yeah, okay. But he's still a homicidal maniac? What, exactly are you hoping to achieve by explaining that he was abused and bullied and whatnot? To humanize the joker? How about making him the face of an anti-capitalist movement? Are you trying to make him into some kind of a hero?

A lot was made when this movie debuted about the danger of glorifying the violence and how certain populations might come away with a dangerous message from it. And no, that didn't happen. But even knowing that, I couldn't help coming to the exact same conclusion. Like why are we as a society so eager to delve into the psyche of a white male mass murderer and put his actions into context, when countless scores of ordinary people are not afforded the same courtesy? This isn't just a movie, but practically a mirror into regular life.

Ultimately, my problem rests on the shoulders of Phoenix. A lot of praise has been heaped on him for his performance, and I respect him for doing what he could with what was a very bare bones script. At the same time, the fact that entire movie focuses almost solely on him and him alone, the flaws are easier to pick out. I'd hoped we were past awarding actors just for losing lots of weight and overacting anger, but here we are. (No but seriously, what purpose did it serve for his character to be emaciated? It's not like Phoenix is a pudgy dude. Was it really necessary to make him lose all that weight for this?) I'm not saying he didn't do a good job--I'm asking if this is really what we consider to the best performance actors can give. (Because let's be honest, we all know they're going to give him the Oscar for this.)

I know I'm going to take a lot of flack for this opinion. I know that a lot of people want to see it as an intimate portrait of mental illness or the ills of a capitalistic society. And maybe that is what director Todd Philips set out to create. But to me, it felt more like a movie that took itself far too seriously, while only giving the slightest of nods to deeper themes so that it could go back and claim anyone who didn't see it as not understanding the material. So let me be clear: I understood it, I simply didn't like it.

Final word: Thanks, I hate it

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