Director: Todd Phillips Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, and Brett Cullen
Monte’s Rating 2.50 out of 5.00
By MONTE YAZZIE
The power of laughter is an amazing characteristic.
Laughter composes so many emotions: happiness, sadness, everything in-between and beyond. Laughs are uniquely individual, sometimes they are contagious, other times they can be scary and in some occasions they can be forged.
Joaquin Phoenix utilizes a maniacal, nervous and ultimately tragic form of laughter to compose an unstable character, the DC super villain “Joker.”
Phoenix, in a completely amazing, transformative performance, is placed within a shallow, depressing and somewhat pointless film that is aspiring for thoughtful insight on numerous subject matters. But instead it meanders into a place of emptiness.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonesome, damaged man working as a sign-waving clown, moonlighting as a stand-up comedian. He keeps a journal of jokes in the dingy rough streets of Gotham City, where desperate kids steal his sign and entitled men beat him up on the subway.
Arthur is struggling in life, he is meeting with a psychologist and taking medication for his concerns. One of which is an uncontrollable laughing condition that signals some kind of substantial past trauma.
He lives and takes care of his ailing mother (Frances Conroy), who once worked for the storied Wayne family in Gotham. His character also holds a fond admiration for a late-night television show host (Robert De Niro) and has a crush on a girl (Zazie Beetz), who lives in his apartment complex.
But Arthur is slowly breaking at the same time as Gotham City, leaving both man and city in a desperate place.
“Joker” has a lot of narrative wheels spinning.
Ideas concerning the state of mental illness and the lack of assistance available, and the social inequality that pushes poor and rich characters in Gotham further away from decency. Also, the victimization of people who don’t fit into the specific spaces defined by society.
In the middle of all of the confused contemplations and supposed insightfulness is one of the most famous comic villains of all time. And while comic book films have found ways to incorporate complex moral stories about characters struggling with their motivation or responsibility, “Joker” never seems to make a clear choice about what kind of character it wants to compose.
Arthur is suffering, his nervous laugh seemingly teetering from complete sadness to utter contempt in moments. Yet the moral struggle ends with the laugh.
The world around Arthur is crumbling. The city of Gotham is at a boiling point, anarchy and chaos are imminent and his personal, emotional outbursts with and without clown makeup are exploited by the media, which eventually points to him as some kind of poster child for Gotham’s frustration.
It’s never completely identified because Arthur’s character is never composed to connect his disturbing actions to the turmoil found in the world he exists in. And even if the design of the story was to connect Joker’s origin as bred from chaos, to connect that Joker would exist in some way because society predicated the design.
There isn’t enough in the narrative to make these ideas have the strength to become meaningful and astute. Instead it feels lost, shallow and misguided.
Still, amidst the narrative issues, the film boasts a stunning performance from Joaquin Phoenix. The actor composes a character with physical actions that combine bodily contortions.
The actor is frail and manipulates his face and body in rigid manners, while also embodying a delicateness that are seen with graceful dance moments and gentle hand gestures, which moved with a fluid-like feel.
Robert De Niro is also interesting here. He is poised as a late-night talk show host that feels similar to Jerry Lewis’ role in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” a film where De Niro played the role of an obsessed lurker.
“Joker” unfortunately never has a target in mind, which ultimately makes all of the moves it takes predictable and somewhat derivative of other films that handle similar subject matter.
The film understands how to photograph a world in distress and how to compose a score that feels ominous and anxious. But it never gives the astonishing abilities of Phoenix’s character and narrative material to make his complicated laugh have the gravity and depth it craves.