The much anticipated stand alone “Joker” movie has arrived and it’s an immediate example of “The Emperor Has No Clown Shoes!”
Director and co-writer Todd Phillips casts aside his usual comedy stylings to give us his take on the origin story of the iconic Batman villain The Joker. After the rave reviews Phillips’ “Joker” received at the Venice Film Festival I was expecting to see something unique and original but from the start this film was just a cliche filled slice of wannabe edginess.
The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck a man who is afflicted with a condition that makes him laugh when he is nervous. It’s a cheap plot device and in my opinion just lazy writing. If he’s going to be crazy then let him be crazy. Let him laugh at inappropriate things for the sheer joy of making others uncomfortable. Fleck dreams of being a stand-up comedian and appearing on his favorite late night talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Yes we get it… Phillips’ loves the film “King Of Comedy.”
To make ends meet Fleck works as a rent-a-clown whose job requirements consist of spinning “grand opening” signs and visiting sick children in the hospital and if you’re still not reeling from getting hit over the head with this rubber mallet of a script wait until you hear this…
What are Fleck’s motivations for eventually becoming Gotham’s biggest bad guy of all-time? Try these on for size… abandonment, child abuse, bullying, a crazy mother, delusional visions etc. etc. etc. You name the cliche and it’s here in spades. In fact there are so many overused themes in this film that it could have easily been called “Troper.”
Phoenix’s portrayal of a man slowly going mad is the same thing we’ve seen a million times… he’s super skinny which always indicates insanity. He laughs at inappropriate things, he carries a notebook of his rambles adorned with pornographic pictures of women. The filmmakers will most likely say that Fleck is an homage to DeNiro’s Travis Bickle or Max Cady but for me it comes across as a rip-off. In fact the multiple homages to Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro are exhausting. At every turn Phillips wants you to see how cool he is with scenes that are just lifted from Scorsese’s original films. Yes there’s a scene in which a shirtless Arthur Fleck holds a gun and talks to himself in his apartment. We get it Todd you’re making a Scorcese film only this one is mind-numbingly boring and takes every pretentious page from “Film Bro” movie making handbook.
The third act finds De Niro’s Murray Franklin inviting Arthur on his show after he sees a videotape of Fleck bombing in a nightclub. When Fleck shows up to tape the show he is in full clown make-up and asks if he can be introduced simply as “Joker.” This is beyond ridiculous. He would never have made it past security but nope Franklin agrees and “Joker” makes his TV debut. The show does not go well for De Niro and eventually Joker is running through the streets of Gotham as look alike clowns are rioting in the streets. That’s a whole other unbelievable subplot that I don’t even feel like getting into. I could literally make a list of 25 things in “Joker” that are utterly laughable for all the wrong reasons.
When Warner Brothers first announced that this film was being made we were told that it is not in the Batman universe and yet there’s Thomas, Martha and young Bruce Wayne plus a guy who appears to be Alfred Pennyworth and oh and in case you’re wondering… eventually the pearls go flying in the alley. Not brave enough to stand on it’s own merits as a one-off villain film the producers decided to insert just enough Batman lore to make diehard comic fans angry instead of gleeful. What we end up with is a head scratching mess.
In the final 15 minutes Phoenix does show flashes of brilliance and in another film he would be a very menacing match for the Cape Crusader but sadly “Joker” ends up being a film that is so on the nose you could honk it.
Pat Francis currently hosts the popular comedy/music podcast “Rock Solid,” called 1 of the 8 great music podcasts to put in your ears by USA Today and featuring artists such as Melissa Etheridge, Sammy Hagar and Susanna Hoffs. His frequent appearances on Jimmy Pardo’s top rated podcast “Never Not Funny” are fan favorites. Pat began his entertainment career as a stand-up comic in Chicago, IL. After touring the country and performing in 42 states at comedy clubs and colleges, he relocated to Los Angeles, CA. There he appeared as a comedian on Comedy Central, AMC, the UCB and is a yearly regular at the San Francisco Sketchfest. For the past 5 years he has also served as Co-Host of the yearly event Pardcast-A-Thon which to date has raised over 700,000 for Smile Train. When not entertaining people in person he also makes his living as a Story Producer for reality television programs. It is also important to know that Pat is a monkey in a human mask.