JOKER directed by Todd Phillips (USA, 2019)

jokerWho needs critics anyway? All of us have opinions so we don’t need to be told what to like and why.

The initial official press reaction to Joker was broadly positive but winning The Golden Globe in Venice seems to have provoked a bizarre backlash. How dare a popular movie win such an accolade over the latest worthy but dull art house fodder?

Roger Ebert.com has dismissed the movie as “pernicious garbage” and Time magazine’s hack even have the bare-faced nerve to attack Joaquin Phoenix’s stellar performance as “aggressive terribleness”.

On top of this, and in keeping with its liberal tendency for fence-sitting, the UK’s Guardian newspaper try to have it both ways. They currently have a policy of filling space in their culture pages by printing reviews with wildly opposing points of view. On one hand Xan Brooks praised the movie’s “glorious daring” but then Peter Bradshaw described it as “very shallow”.

Thankfully, ordinary punters have wisely disregarded the negative reviews. At the time of writing, the critic’s average rating at Metacritic is a paltry 59% while users have given it a resounding 9.3.

Perhaps one explanation for the snooty press reaction is that Todd Phillips is not regarded as a serious auteur. This is a man who has built his reputation on the commercially successful Hangover comedy trilogy. If Joker had been made by Martin Scorsese, these selfsame scribes would be falling over themselves to praise the bold and provocative direction.

Scorsese is an appropriate point of comparison because Taxi Driver (1976) and King Of Comedy (1982) are such obvious influences on Phillips. This presumably was one reason why he cast Robert De Niro as a smug TV host. Disturbed loners were at the heart of Scorsese’s classics – taxi driving Travis Bickle and failed stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin, both of whom were played by De Niro. These characters are vivid and believable but there isn’t much of a back story to explain their violent and desperate actions. In contrast, Joaquin Phoenix’s masterly portrayal of Arthur Fleck means that we can understand how his increasing alienation and isolation from conventional society pushes him to breaking point.

Even if this wasn’t the case, America is so rife with crazed psychos committing mass killings that it seems bizarre that so many reviewers affect shock at stylized on-screen violence. A society that refuses to tighten gun laws in the face of real life outrages cannot then claim the moral high ground by attacking films that merely reflect, rather than cause, such barbaric acts.

‘Joker’ is a feast of entertainment not a social critique but nevertheless is a warning of what happens when a system celebrates individualism and ignores the needs of individuals. Personally, I think it’s a masterpiece but don’t take my word for it and don’t listen to the clowns who make a living out of misinformation. Watch and judge it for yourself then tell me I’m right!