Todd Phillips' Joker is going to inspire the worst film criticism of the year from both sides (professional and amateur)*. So let me just weigh in first on what it *is*. It's a comic book movie. It's not anything that could possibly be taken seriously as a film about mental illness. It's a comic book movie telling an origin story using pretty expert riffs on genres we've seen before to stick the landing. And for the most part, Joker works. For me, the strongest selling point of Joker is that it's exactly the kind of film growing up that I wish they would make. Now that I am 38, I understand why an adult film industry wouldn't make such a film. But we don't have an adult film industry anymore, don't we. Regardless, the three narrative devices employed in this film are: 1) we wait to see him become the Joker, 2) we go through doors hoping for explanations as to reasons why he is what he is, and 3) watching Joaquin Phoenix do crazy shit. All three of these are effective but never profound. It would be a shame if Joaquin Phoenix wins the Oscar for this film, which is why I'm fairly certain he will win. For me, he never quite comes into focus as a character, however he is very effectively utilized by the film as a whole. I enjoyed the vision, as a gritty, grimy, well-shot, edited, scored, thing that filled me with excitement and dread, about a world of Haves and Have Nots, of remarkable inequalities, and all it takes a world into chaos is a spark.
But at the end of the day it is a comic book movie in that it is using these tropes in an unserious but effective manner designed to thrill and excite. That's it. They're all mostly used very well. This is a well crafted film. The moment where Arthur is smacked in the face with his stolen sign is shot and edited better than it should be. It truly feels like it comes from nowhere. The whole film is full of those moments.
Definitely worth watching.
* After Todd Phillips' public comments this past week, I don't blame anyone for loathing this film. What a remarkably unserious asshole for suggesting that it was woke culture that drove him away from making his precious Hangover sequels and forced him to make... his best film. The worst moment of the film is a Clown protester holding a RESIST sign. What... are... you... doing? Especially considering that it completely undermines a fairly astonishing "Kill The Rich" economic message.
"Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough." ~ FDR