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Joker

by Derek Deskins
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jan 14, 2020
Joker

As I sit to write this review, "Joker" has received eleven Academy Award nominations. That means that "Joker" has now received as many nominations as both "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and "The Godfather" (and "The Godfather, Part II" while we're at it). Not until this moment have I been able to use the word gobsmacked and truly feel the weight of its meaning. I guess I must have seen a different "Joker."

Settle into a Gotham City as you've never seen it before. Well, except for the crime, the general dinginess, and that whole vast separation between the wealthy and the poor. I guess, more to the point, it's the same Gotham that you've always seen, just in the '80s now. Oh and Bruce Wayne is just a kid, so no Batman.

Meet Arthur Fleck, an aspiring comedian and part-time clown, dealing with some serious mental illness. Although, I guess the mental illness isn't really the point here. It's more about how hard it is to be straight, white, and think you're a lot more talented than you actually are.

Listen, this is harder than it looks. It's a Joker origin story, ok? That's the whole thing.

Trying to trace the roots of an iconic comic book villain feels like something of a fool's errand. Especially in the case of the Joker. He has been a figure of mystery and mayhem and held a number of different beginnings. Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" refused to commit to any one beginning for the clown prince of crime and in so doing seemed to grasp what makes him so terrifying as a villain. The Joker is best when his mayhem is unhinged, his villainy unexplained, his existence is defined by little more than unbridled anarchy.

But Todd Phillips seems to feel differently. In Phillips' hands, the Joker is simply misunderstood, or he's a victim of a broken system, or maybe he was emotionally abused, or, actually, maybe society's own mockery shaped him. Phillips isn't quite sure what he wants the root of his Joker's evil to be. All he seems to know is that he doesn't want this to be your typical comic book movie (except Bruce Wayne definitely shows up and we get to see his parents die, again). Instead, he would like it to be a gritty 70s era character picture (with Gotham as his New York). But again, while on the surface it seems to check the aesthetic boxes, in actuality it is a derivative shell of what came before. It is beholden to the pictures that it would like to be considered alongside, yet devoid of soul or purpose. It is as if Todd Phillips devoured every Scorsese movie that he could find and didn't understand a single one of them.

The Blu-ray release is fitting in its simplicity. The cover, like the movie itself, looks good and entices you to see what's inside. Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot. The anchor of its special features is a twenty-minute featurette entitled "Joker: Vision & Fury," in which numerous members of the film's production talk about the entire movie-making process. It's mostly self-congratulatory and not all that different from how any movie comes to exist. The rest of the features are largely in service to this one, be they interview add-ons or music videos by another name.

"Joker" is not a terrible movie. It is competently assembled and Joaquin Phoenix turns in an expectedly committed performance. But it is not the bastion of the message and cinema that it purports to be. As it reaches its conclusion, you feel empty and dirty, in need of a shower and maybe some therapy: shaken and purposeless. To celebrate "Joker" as the best of the year is akin to telling your friends of all the celebrities you met while walking through Madame Tussauds. It isn't and you didn't.

"Joker"
Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD
https://www.warnerbros.com/movies/joker
$24.56

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