Toronto 2019: Joker

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. Courtesy of TIFF/Warner Bros. Pictures.

Joker presents a new retelling of the character’s origins as a villain but the film fails so horribly on just about every single level.

SPOILER ALERT: I apologize in advance for any spoilers but when it comes to reviews, please read at your own risk.

There are so many problems with this film.  First of all, the Joker is a straight-out villain in the comics.  In prior movies, he has never once been presented in a way to draw sympathy or empathy from the audience.  And yet, here we are watching a film that asks its audience to have some sympathy for Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix).  The character is not one who should be presented in such a way that we see him in Todd Phillips’ film.  This didn’t sit well with me for the entire movie.  I don’t recall Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger doing the role in such a way.

“I used to think my life was a tragedy but now I realize it’s a fucking comedy,” Arthur says while confronting his mother Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy).

Much like last year’s Venom didn’t have the Spider-Man presence, the same can be said here.  Well, replace Spider-Man with Batman and you can get the idea.  It would be hard to not have any presence of the Wayne family at all in the film.  As such, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is in the film and running for mayor.  Sure enough, Alfred (Douglas Hodge) looks over young master Bruce when Arthur wants to confront Thomas.  Meanwhile, Penny frequently writes to Wayne to ask for financial help.

One can see the Martin Scorsese influences on the film.  The King of Comedy is one film that comes to mind.  Unfortunately, Taxi Driver is another.  This particular influence is worrisome on so many levels.  Meanwhile, Robert De Niro’s character, Murray Franklin, is clearly a stand-in for Johnny Carson.  The curtains are a big tell for this with a similar color to that of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

I went into this film with an open mind.  Obviously, I grew concerns upon learning that the director of The Hangover would be directing a film about the Joker.  I’m not alone in this.  Regardless, an open mind isn’t even enough to find entertainment value in the film.  I mean, Joaquin Phoenix is a talented actor and he does his best with the material.  Unfortunately, a talented actor alone is not enough to lift up even the most terrible film scripts.  There was no being able to connect with the film.  Believe me when I say that I tried but there was nothing there.  Even when I laughed, I hated myself for doing so.  There’s nothing funny about mental illness.  There’s just no fun in this film.  Maybe a few of Murray Franklin’s jokes but that’s the extent of it.

I don’t like to use the word “hate” lightly but when it comes to this film.  I hated it.  Roger Ebert said it best in his review of North so many years ago.  I hated every single minute of this film.  Joker isn’t the traditional comic book movie and presents villains sympathetically in a cringe-worthy way.  To say that this film is also a disgrace to DC Comics is not an understatement.  I’ll take Wonder Woman and Shazam again any day of the week.

DIRECTOR:  Todd Phillips
SCREENWRITERS:  Todd Phillips & Scott Silver
CAST:  Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Marc Maron, Douglas Hodge, Josh Pais, and Leigh Gill

Joker holds its North American premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Gala program. Warner Bros. Pictures opens the film on October 4, 2019. Grade: 1/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.