Friday, October 4, 2019

Joker [2019]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L) (2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review 

Joker [2019] (directed by Todd Phillips, screenplay by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver) offers an appropriately dark (and rather credible) origin story for The Joker [DCC] [Wikip] [IMDb] (played in this film by Joaquin Phoenix) among most unforgettable American comic book super-villains of all time.

Troubled little man, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) -- "fleck" literally means "spot" or "stain" in many central European languages, including German -- tries to make the best of his hard, little life in the troubled, timeless, fallen New York City-inspired Gotham (the people of Gotham drive 1960s-70s era cars, use smart phones, 1970-80s era answering machines and watch 1930s era Charlie Chaplin movies...). 

Brought-up by his similarly beaten-down by life, cheated-upon, abused, single mom (not by choice), "worth no more than change," Penny (played by Frances Conroy) for whom Arthur had been the one source of at least some joy in her life ("he was always such a happy boy...") and then told by said mom to "keep putting on a happy face," Arthur ekes out a living as a "clown for hire" ... and suffers ALL the indignities of being dressed as a clown in a hard / cynical town that is NOT laughing (except at someone's expense) ... and he becomes ... well what can anybody expect?

The film makes for an inspired, if yes, dark, character study exposing the cruelty of a society that, well, doesn't give a damn.  Indeed, Robert De Niro, whose breakthrough portrayal of a similarly invisible, troubled titular Taxi Driver [1976] put him, forever, among Hollywood's greats, plays a significant role in the current story, though NOT as another anonymous loser but rather as a Johnny Carson-like "star", whose career actually feeds on the little losers like poor Arthur and Penny Fleck, who religiously stay-up to watch his show even as he largely makes fun of their difficult lives.

Brilliant, if scathing and sad.  Definitely NOT for pre-teens nor for the weak of heart.  But can help us understand some of the madness of our times.

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