This is not your typical comic book movie. “Joker” is a bleak and misanthropic film that says what it wants to say — you just might not want to listen.
“Joker” is an attempt to break out of the action-heavy superhero movie genre, so don’t expect any fisticuffs with Batman. “Joker” is a dark drama, a character study trying really hard to be artistic. It succeeds, with a truly dedicated lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix, but that doesn’t make “Joker” enjoyable to watch.
Though I suppose we’re not meant to “enjoy” it so much as experience it.
Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a severely depressed and mentally ill man with a nervous tick that causes him to break out into uncontrollable, cackling laughter at the most inopportune times. He works as a clown-for-hire and wants to be a stand-up comedian, with dreams of being popular, beloved and funny.
But the world is a cruel place, especially to those with mental illnesses, and Fleck slowly turns to psychopathy and homicide.
“Joker” is a dark and grotesque movie. This isn’t a movie about heroes and villains and bright costumes. This is an intense character study of a deeply troubled man and how his troubles get worse and worse, until he turns to killing people to make himself feel at peace. That he dresses up like a clown is just part of the so-called fun.
If the movie is saying anything, it’s about how society fails people with mental health problems. Whether through things like social services having their budgets cut, or just random jerks on the street being overly cruel to the unfortunate, it’s clear in “Joker” that we create our own worst enemies.
The movie definitely gets this point across. The world around Fleck is unimaginably unfair to him, and his gradual transformation into the Joker is meant to be cathartic to his soul. Phoenix goes to great lengths to play this part, really giving 110% into being maniacal, mentally unbalanced and eventually gleefully murderous.
It all just makes for an off-putting film. “Joker” is well-made, and cinema buffs can probably praise its cinematography or its musical score or its artistry. But “Joker” is a dark, bleak and ugly trip to the theater.