(Directed by Todd Phillips) (2019)
Joker is All Dog, from snout to tail. It displays a breathtaking conceit as to its own importance, a delusion, in fact, of grandeur, and of relevance. It shamelessly rips-off much better films such as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. It is completely tired and lustreless; it is neurotic and incoherent; it is inept, pretentious and self-indulgent; it has no insights to offer, just tritely psychologised solemnity that gets so murky it’s (almost) funny. In fact there is a special kind of unredeemed awfulness throughout the entirety of what we might loosely call ‘the production.’ When the lead character smothered his mother with a pillow we just had to hit the bar.
Arthur Fleck is a failed clown and psychopath in a town like Gotham (circa 1976, or 1982, or now: whatever) who badly wants to get on the Murray Franklin TV show. But he isn’t funny, he isn’t talented, he isn’t humble, he isn’t even nice. (When his closing-down-sale sign is stolen and he is beaten, we longed to join in.) That’s because his Dad may be a nasty millionaire Republican, and when your clown-gig is terminated, your medication is cancelled, your girlfriend rejects you, your acts of heroism (whilst, absurdly, venerated) go unrewarded, and no one understands your jokes, the only way out is TV standup, right?
Unfortunately, we can’t let star Joaquin Phoenix off, either. Far too old to play Arthur Fleck, having no visible understanding of the shambles and shenanigans of his character’s ‘journey,’ Phoenix’s performance contains nary a glimpse of subtlety or credibility. He comes across like Arnold Horshack from ‘Welcome Back Kotter,’ only without the charm. The film is supposed to concern the genesis of a supervillain, not the masturbatory, sanctimonious self-aggrandizement of an actor let off the leash. It’s enough to give anti-Americanism a bad name: They’d be better off staging a troupe draped in stars and stripes, wielding butcher knives and singing ‘Send in the Clowns.’
All one has to do, in sum, is paraphrase Lousie Corbin, who brilliantly tore apart another pile of pretension, Last Year at Marienbad:
‘Historians of the future who are concerned with the Decline of the West would do well to glance at this so-called motion picture, and to ponder the reasons for the fatuous things that are currently being said in its praise…The simple truth about [Joker] is that a not untalented filmmaker [Phillips] has foresworn the hard work artistic creation entails and has allowed his immature and meaningless fumbling to be promoted by those who wish to convert Western culture into an irrational confusion.’