Here at Burbs, we find it important to come together to discuss our opinions and ideas about recent events in popular culture in order to develop a better overall understanding. This past weekend presented us with one of the more polarizing pop culture events of the year: the theatrical release of the newest addition to the Batman canon, Joker.
DC and Todd Phillips’s (director of The Hangover trilogy) film, Joker, had the most profitable opening weekend for a film in the history of the month of October. After generating a lot of controversy regarding the film’s themes, messages, and tone, Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix’s (the film industry’s closest thing to the character he portrays) Joker has exceeded expectations from a financial standpoint, but where does it stand from a critical perspective?
We asked some of our resident movie-goers what they thought of one of the more highly anticipated films of the year.
We will be discussing the totality of the movie, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, then we strongly encourage you to attend the next possible screening of it.
Okay, before we begin, what would you rank this movie on a scale from 1-to-10? (1 being the worst, and 10 being the best)
Ralph James: After giving it some more thought, I'd have this film at a quality 8.5 as far as watching-a-movie-and-then-rating-it goes, but I think it did a 9.5 job at achieving what it seemed like it was attempting to achieve (make the audience as uncomfortable as possible).
Jack Martin: I honestly still haven't been able to discover my final thoughts, but I've been going with 7.6. I agree with Ralph, though, it did a damn-near perfect job of setting the tone they wanted.
Evan Northrup: I can’t believe I’m rating something higher than Ralph, but I think I’m gonna give Joker a 9. Yeah, it made me more uncomfortable than a hooker in church, but I was entertained from beginning to end. I also thought the dancing and soundtrack made the film beautiful, in a disturbing, terrible kind of way.
What was the best, or your favorite, part of the movie?
Evan Northrup: From when he dyes his hair that classic Heath Ledger greasy green to the end was incredible. Everything got turned up to ten and it was a drag race to the finish.
Jack Martin: For me, I guess it’s parts. I knew a young Bruce Wayne would be in the movie but I wasn’t sure in what capacity because it was made very clear that Batman would not appear. The connecting of Arthur to Thomas Wayne, Arthur’s encounter with Bruce and Penny, and finally the gunning down of Thomas and Martha Wayne on the night Arthur Fleck is finally seen… I wasn’t expecting any of it. I loved the way they showed the origin of the Joker while simultaneously setting up Batman’s eventual beginning and the cat and mouse game between the two that we’ve all come to know.
Ralph James: Personally, I don't know how I didn't see the Zazie Beetz twist coming, but I thought that it was really impactful. Arthur was obviously a very disturbed, and complicated character, but the idea of him conjuring her up in some of his most formative moments (stand-up performance, visiting mother in the hospital, etc.) was really all I needed to see in order to understand just how mentally unstable he really is.
What was the worst part of the movie?
Evan Northrup: Damn, this question really made me realize how much I love Joker. I really can’t think of a “worst part” or anything close. I thought Thomas Wayne punching Arthur Fleck was a little too on the nose (excuse my pun) about how the rich treat those with less, but even that was an important part of Fleck’s dismal character arc.
Jack Martin: It’s not necessarily a part more so than a line. During his monologue on The Murray Franklin Show before killing Murray, Arthur says something along the lines of, “I’ve been turned away by society,” and actually used the word “society.” I felt like it could’ve been delivered without being so direct, I don’t know. It kind of sounded like “Society hates me, maaaan.” But then again, I didn’t write or direct it, so maybe Phillips had his reasoning for that.
Ralph James: I mean, c'mon, did he really have to suffocate his mother to death?
Should Joaquin Phoenix be in contention for Best Actor at the Oscars?
Evan Northrup: No matter how much the Oscars hate superhero movies, there’s no way that Phoenix won’t at least land a nomination. However, with the controversy surrounding the movie I doubt he would get enough academy votes to win. Plus he’s competing against Leo... as Rick Dalton... in a Tarantino movie... Good luck?.
Jack Martin: Yes, but like Evan said, I don’t think the Academy will vote for him. Phoenix’s performance was deeply unsettling; he did his job better than I could’ve imagined. While my final verdict on the film has hovered around a 7.6, there’s no doubt that Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck is a 10.
Ralph James: Well, let's see. It's safe to assume that either Leo or Brad Pitt will be nominated for Once Upon a Time. So there's one lock.
I also think it's safe to presume that Adam Driver will receive a nomination for his role in the unreleased Marriage Story, which is gaining early momentum and genuine praise from critics.
I wouldn't count out Willem Dafoe or Robert Pattinson for their roles in The Lighthouse either (also unreleased).
Adam Sandler is going to have to be in contention for his role in Uncut Gems, which is said to be his best performance since Punch Drunk Love.
Other than that though, I don't know who else would be regarded above Joaquin, a three-time Oscar nominated actor who deserves all the praise he's been awarded for his intense commitment to this role.*
*I saw somebody on Twitter say that Joaquin committed to this role so hard, that he actually got scoliosis in order to better dive into the character.
Do you want more superhero/villain movies to have this tone?
Evan Northrup: I don’t think any movie could ever match the tone of Joker, but I would love to see more dark superhero films that focus on character over plot. Logan is my favorite superhero film of all time and it is similar in a way, both being dark character studies focused on inner conflict more than classic villains.
Jack Martin: Definitely, but it obviously depends on the character. The reason I skipped last year’s Venom was because of the PG-13 rating. I wanted a really dark look at a character I’d only seen portrayed by Eric Forman. If I wanted to see a sheepish pothead get angry I’d start doing vlogs. But, yeah, I also think DC characters work better for this style of film; I’d love for them to produce more lower budget, more realistic R-rated takes on their IP.
Ralph James: Well, let me say this, Deadpool changed the superhero movie game for me. Both the first and the sequel are in my top five superhero movies alongside The Dark Knight, Endgame, and Thor: Ragnarok, but this Joker film in particular has the momentum to gain its way into that relatively concrete ranking of mine. While superhero movies are typically, and have been traditionally, bright spots for the community to come together as one and enjoy a hero persevering through all types of adversity, and coming out on top, this movie was anything but that.
It was a two-hour long cringe fest that made me question my own humanity for days afterwards. So, yeah, I like when movies mix things up a little bit, and sometimes it's refreshing to have a superhero or villain movie that resembles The Witch more than it does Remember the Titans. I think it's important to continue diversifying a relatively predictable genre of movies.
How does Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal stand in comparison to the legendary Heath Ledger’s?
Evan Northrup: I won’t lie, I re-watched The Dark Knight the night after I went to see Joker. What really surprised me is how much more in control Ledger seems compared to Phoenix. Like yeah, Ledger’s Joker is pretty nuts, but he knows who he is. He has a clear goal, which is to cause chaos. In Joker Arthur Fleck is a ball of contradictions, shooting people in cold blood then going home and giving his mom a bath. He has no idea who he is, or where his place in the world is, until the very end. I think we see Fleck really evolve into a Joker much more like Ledger’s at the end of the movie when he realizes what he wants, to see the world burn.
Jack Martin: They can’t be compared. Both did their own thing with a character we’d already come to know by the time their portrayals arrived on screen