[Header Image: Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck | Warner Bros. Pictures]
“My mother always tells me to smile and put on a happy face. She told me I had a purpose: to bring laughter and joy to the world.”
Prior to its release, Joker already had a ton of things going for it that made me excited to see it and thankfully, it did deliver on those things but I have to admit that for the most part, I was wildly underwhelmed. Before I really jump into this review, I would still say that it’s worth checking out. However, I wouldn’t say you’re missing out too much if you have to wait to see it and don’t get the chance to do so at the cinema.
When Joker was first announced, I was definitely intrigued. I’ve personally always enjoyed the character and while I haven’t seen every adaptation out there, the ones I have seen have thoroughly entertained me. I was curious to see this one, especially considering this movie is all about him. Usually, when we see the Joker, he’s the villain but the story is ultimately about Bruce Wayne/Batman (or other characters like in Suicide Squad).
As I said at the start of this review, I was a little underwhelmed with Joker. There were just a lot of moments where I felt indifferent. The last third (possibly less) of the movie, was definitely the best part. It ramped up a little in terms of violence and the pacing but not only that, it felt like the movie finally found its stride. That last third or so really snapped up my attention and I was having the time of my life. It’s such a shame that it happened so late. It’s understandable that the whole movie wasn’t quite like that, it had to build to something, but the rest of the movie still could have used a little more.
All that being said, I do still think this was a movie worth watching and as one that focused almost entirely on just the Joker, it was really good. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance helped especially with that and he was outstanding from start to finish. There’s always some level of intensity throughout Joker that’s bound to make you feel anxious and/or uncomfortable and a big part of that is down to Phoenix’s performance. Between the excessive laughter, the body language, facial expressions, and delivery of certain lines we can clearly see the slow changes in Arthur’s life as he gets closer and closer to becoming the Joker. There’s nothing necessarily unique about this version of the character’s origin story but the way it’s presented to us through the performance, the visuals, and even sound makes it a very interesting one to watch.
Joker explores Arthur’s mental health as well as his upbringing and current life in a way that doesn’t glorify, or even excuse, the things he ends up doing throughout the movie but instead just provides us with an insight and to some extent, an explanation. There are definitely comments Joker makes on mental health and society’s way of dealing with it as well as how certain people can be treated that are definitely relevant today despite the movie being set in the eighties. Even so, it still doesn’t glorify the events that take place. It’s made abundantly clear that Joker is from Arthur’s point of view so naturally, certain events in the movie are seen to be positive when really, they’re not. Going into this, you have to remember that we’re essentially seeing everything through a lens. It’s a psychological thriller where the bad guy is the main character and Joker handles that fact incredibly well. There is certainly a side to the movie that is pure entertainment and is merely meant to be fun but the parts of it that run much deeper are well put together.
Before, I mentioned the visuals and sound and I have to say that Joker does absolutely deliver on those fronts. The entire movie is really beautiful to look at and it sounds incredible as well. The praise and attention it’s been getting on those fronts since as early as the first trailers and stills, is definitely warranted. Those aspects and the performances only compliment each other. While, I may have found the movie underwhelming in places and it didn’t fully grasp my attention until quite late in, those three things really helped to keep my focus to some degree. While I do think Joker missed the mark in some places, it did get a lot of things right, especially in the ways it toes that line in telling us Arthur’s story without trying to justify him. It also creates a really odd balance between being genuinely funny and enjoyable in some places and being down right uncomfortable in others while maintaining this intensity throughout all of it. I honestly just wanted to squirm while I was sat in the cinema because as I talked about earlier, there’s always something that’s so anxiety-inducing and uncomfortable about it and it works.
I wouldn’t say Joker is the best movie of 2019 but it certainly is worth checking out at some point. I’m intrigued to watch it again sometime in the future to see if a second viewing provides anything different. While it may not have reached its full potential, I have to give to it credit because it is incredibly well made and put together. And, admittedly, I did really love the way in which Joker presented Arthur and his journey as well as the take on his mental health. I wouldn’t say the movie is as deep as people are making it out to be but it certainly made a few points nonetheless and was pretty successful at doing so.
Rating: ★★★½ /5