Before its Friday release date, Todd Phillips' Joker took home the the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. It also took a lot of flak from people who feared the origin story of a comic book antihero would glorify angry loners. With the curtain now pulled, critics are offering a mixed bag of appreciation and, well, aversion. Four takes:
- Dana Stevens can't help but wonder at all the discussion. "Predictable, clichéd, deeply derivative of other, better movies, and overwritten to the point of self-parody," Joker is a "grimy and relentlessly downbeat fable … too slight, aesthetically and morally, to bear the weight of all those months of debate," she writes at Slate, describing a "highly unpleasant" viewing owing to the "claustrophobia and boredom."
- "The movie isn't even a little interested in what makes its female characters tick," which Chris Hewitt sees as "a missed opportunity, especially in a movie that treads as much familiar ground as Joker." Indeed, "the lack of originality becomes glaring in a few scenes." Still, "Phillips made a brilliant choice in casting [Joaquin] Phoenix," who "gives the performance of his career," Hewitt writes at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
- The actor's "superb performance … graphically expresses the toll that untreated mental illness exacts upon individuals and society" in "the supervillain origin story to beat all origin stories," writes Peter Howell in a more favorable review. "Don't blame the movie for ringing the bell on society's fire," he adds at the Toronto Star, noting the film is "all the more unsettling" because both the characters and events are plausible.
- AO Scott, however, argues this "empty, foggy exercise in second-hand style and second-rate philosophizing" is "not interesting enough to argue about." "It's hard to say if the muddle Joker makes of itself arises from confusion or cowardice, but the result is less a depiction of nihilism than a story about nothing," Scott writes at the New York Times. "It isn't any fun, and it can't be taken seriously. Is that the joke?"
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