Again, I apologize for not reviewing Todd Phillips’ Joker. I thought that public apology was necessary because nobody in our staff would ended up seeing it, busy schedules and all. But God, a funny comedian, had other plans. Dave and I ended up seeing the film within days of each other. And I’d rather review it, if you can call this a review, so I won’t have to think about it in the future.
Anyway, it is our job as audiences of movies to relate to whoever we see on screen. The titular antihero (Joaquin Phoenix) is a hard character to sympathize with. So I guess Phillips partly succeeded, personally. He presented a protagonist with shades and aspects who reminded me of myself. Watching him fail reminds me of the hurdles I have to face. Living with lightest version of Asperger’s Syndrome is still difficult. Which is nothing in comparison to what Arthur has. Arthur has, as Kristen Lopez points out, Pseudobulbar Affect, a real illness that makes people laugh or cry for seemingly no reason.
Arthur is presumably the same age as the actor playing him – 45. Maybe I have to wait to be 45 to know for sure that the things that happen in Joker, well, most of them anyway, check out. But for the most part, I don’t want to bother doing so. Because this is the most cloying, self-pitying iteration of portraying a character’s descent into madness. Water squirts out of the flower that Arthur wears after a conspicuous gang of ethnic teenagers beat him up. Phillips intends to make us feel sorry for Joker, but it gave me the opposite emotional response. Phillips wanted Joker to stay on that ground instead of wanting him to get up.
And let’s go back to Arthur’s age which is, again, 45. When he’s not living in an institution, he lives in a dingy borough apartment with his mother. Her government name is Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy), which, great. Anyway, Penny still believes that her former employer. That former employer and possibly, her former lover, is Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), who will help them out. Maybe Arthur knows this is untrue and he’s just humouring Penny. But most people can detect their parents’ lies or delusions decades before Arthur was capable of doing so. Todd Phillips thinks he’s using a neuro-atypical characters to project his own self-pity, he’s using one for dramatic shorthand. He portrays this extreme version of a neuro-atypical person. In doing so, he paints all of them in the worst light as the kind of people who can’t figure things out. And sure, there are things that I haven’t figured out at 31 that most people have at twenty-two. Phillips’ method in portraying atypical mental and emotional growth is, nonetheless, offensive.
Many people have said things about Phillips’ statements about deciding to switch from comedy to drama. That in doing so, he’s trying to escape woke culture in comedy that no longer finds offensive things funny. Joker made $93 million during its first week, which is supposedly an indication of success. But a terrible depiction of neuro-atypical people is still terrible, no matter what genre he’s working in. And that’s not even mentioning his ambiguous misfires in depicting class and reality. Part of my job in reviewing things is wasting my words on how bad things in some movies are. But I don’t want to waste any more words on this movie.