Not going to show you a good time

Before we begin, let’s set a couple of things straight. The new film Joker is not about the ’70s hit-makers the Steve Miller Band or their signature song. It is most definitely not a movie for children of any age, including sensitive adults. It’s not for anyone who has serious and respectful concerns for people with mental illnesses. It’s not the superhero or anti-hero movie we so desperately need in this time-bomb of a world we live in. It’s not for comic-book purists. It is not the feel-good-film of the season and will most likely not make any sane person feel better. If you are looking for any of those things from this movie, then you will want to skip this one.

I admittedly have concerns with many of the aforementioned items; nevertheless, I’m going to attempt to speak to Joker on its artistic merits alone. Let’s just say, you’ve been warned (and even if they are begging you to let them see this movie, please consider not taking your kids to this film – be a responsible parent and go buy them a handful of good superhero comics to read instead.)

Joker (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Joker (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Joker is an incredible, disturbing, unsettling, sick and way-too-real re-imagining of Batman’s most notorious arch-nemesis. Apparently unfazed by criticism for making their comic-book films too dark and depressing, DC and Warner Bros. have decided to jump right off into the abyss. At least they’ve done it with style.

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, the future “Clown Prince of Crime,” delivers one of the most amazing acting performances you’ll ever see and that alone is worth the price of admission. This Joker though is not very funny – at all. In fact, the movie is almost totally devoid of humor, despite the character’s maniacal laugher, which permeates the film to chilling effect.

Joker begins with Fleck already quite demented; and some of that illness is explained as the narrative barrels on towards an inevitable cliff, but the movie still leaves many unanswered questions as to the villain’s story and where his madness originates.

Writer/Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) gives us some answers we probably didn’t want to know, but he has publically prefaced his version of Joker as one that does not fit within any of the other Batman films. (If that’s the case, I’ll leave the “Why even make this movie, then?” questions up to you.)

Joker (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Joker (Warner Bros. Pictures)

As Fleck descends into full madness, it really is like watching a train wreck in progress; you want to look away, but Phoenix’s mesmerizing performance prevents you. You just know there will be a spectacular crash on the end, and Phillips delivers on that premise.

This Joker story owes a lot to the often overlooked Martin Scorsese film, The King of Comedy (1983). In fact, that movie’s star, Robert De Niro, shows up in an interesting role-reversal in this movie. The film also stars Zazie Beetz (Domino from Deadpool 2) as Fleck’s neighbor and Frances Conroy as his elderly mother.

There are some catastrophes in this crazy world that can be amazing to experience from a distance (the Hindenburg disaster comes to mind); they are sad and unnerving, but somehow still incredible. I put Joker on that list. It is spectacular, but I pray no one really gets hurt.


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Bob Leeper
Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.