By Brennan Atkins
Arts & Features Editor
By Noah Barnes
“Joker” is a bit like a pineapple pizza.
It’s got the tomato sauce, the cheese, and the crust.
But Todd Phillips is the pineapple. Pineapple pizza has its fans, but we’re not one of them.
“Joker” is a dramatic character study about the iconic comic book character of the same name. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, the soon-to-be “Joker” – a man with a life filled with misfortune and mental illness.
Phoenix’s unhinged performance is topped off nicely with an equally unsettling – yet very catchy – soundtrack. On some occasions, you’ll hear some memorable ’80s jingles, which often work eerily well in the context of a man’s descent into madness. Other times, while the camera focuses on Arthur, you’ll hear this soft and slow violin melody, one you just can’t pinpoint why it sends shivers down your spine.
Todd Phillips, to be blunt, was the reason this movie wasn’t amazing.
There are so many fundamental problems with the kind of movie Phillips wants this to be. He has a very politically charged background narrative, with a strong focus on mental health as the primary plot, and it feels, for lack of a better term, jumbled at bits. The messages and themes the film tries to display end up feeling non-existent or forced. It can make the film feel quite empty.
Where this movie shines, thrives, and makes us want to scream, “More! More!” is in Phoenix’s stellar performance of a broken man. He added a lot to the character and even said some of the interpretative dance scenes were a lot more personal than one would imagine.
Phoenix described how he used to breakdance alone in his room as a way of expressing himself – it leads to a natural transition on camera. These are important segments of the film, as they allow the viewer to interpret not only the physical motions, but also why he’s expressing himself at this point. What events have led him to this point in life, and what can possibly be going through his mind?
The cinematography and visuals are oddly breathtaking.
A lot of superhero movies today have the tendency to utilize the same color palettes, often overusing color in a way that can be downright distracting.
“Joker,” however, uses color in a more interesting fashion. The world of “Gotham City” that we see in the film is very run-down and overflowing with garbage. You can tell it’s a very bleak and dirty place, filled with grey. But there’s always a coating of color somewhere to be found. It’s like you’re in a circus tent – there’s all these bright lights shining down on you, but you can always tell there’s more than just reds and blues.
There’s been a lot of controversy regarding this movie and the use of violence, and whether it’s glorifying a villain’s actions. The use of violence, while extreme, is not something to be described as “glorifying.” The audience knows right away that Arthur is not a good person, and the film does a good job of pointing out that his actions are those of a true villain.
However, the film spends so much time on how Arthur reacts to the world around him, that it spends no time thinking of how the world should react to Arthur.
Everyone besides Arthur is either idiotic, rude, or a mixture of the two. While most wouldn’t sympathize with a murderer, it’s odd the film tries to justify it. The world is shallow and cynical to Arthur – no one really treats him as a person to a downright eye-rolling degree.
When a film tries to have a message centered on mental health care, it’s probably not the smartest call to make Arthur’s own therapist seem as though she doesn’t care.
The film tries so hard to be a real world take on the Joker, and while it handles Joker very well, almost everyone else is painfully cruel to him. A city of cruel individuals isn’t realistic – it’s nihilistic, which is ironically supposed to be “Joker’s” thing.
On top of that, the script can be, quite frankly, awful at times. The entire story is kind of all over the place.People outside of Arthur are written as two-dimensional characters. Some of the writing is so painfully on the nose. We know that Joker lives in a society – what else do you have to say?
Joaquin Phoenix saves an otherwise uninspired tale of misery.