By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Awards season is still months away, but it sure seems as if Joaquin Phoenix
is already a lock to win “Best Actor” across the board for his audacious, ingenious, haunting and captivating performance in the highly anticipated new movie “Joker.”
This characterization of Batman’s nemesis, from director Todd Phillips
(“War Dogs” and “The Hangover”) and screenwriter Scott Silver,
(“The Finest Hours”) is unlike anything you’ve seen.
I know Jack Nicholson was terrific as the Joker in “Batman” and Heath Ledger’s star turn earned him an Oscar for “Best Supporting Actor.” Even Jared Leto had his moments in “Suicide Squad.” But, my goodness. What Phoenix delivers here is absolutely astounding.
That the “Joker” is a standalone origin story yet one which also reflects the depravity and nihilism in our society today, makes it even more effecting.
Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is a tortured soul. Mental illness has left him in a world of his own. Arthur has a medical condition which causes him to laugh uncontrollably and it occurs at the worst possible moments.
He works part-time in Gotham City as a clown, performing on the street for tourists and at hospitals for kids, but Arthur really longs to be a stand-up comic. He carries around a notebook filled with a variety of notes and odd jokes that he hopes will come in handy one day when he gets his big break.
We all have dreams.
Arthur lives in a dumpy apartment with his sickly mother Penny (Frances Conroy, TV’s “Arrested Development”). They often bond while watching a late-night TV show hosted by Arthur’s favorite comedian Murray Franklin (a terrific Robert DeNiro, “The Irishman” and TV’s “The Wizard of Lies”), who is a carbon copy of the late, Johnny Carson.
Rage and anger consume Arthur as he feels increasingly isolated and disregarded especially when his social worker (Sharon Washington, TV’s “City on a Hill”) informs him that budgets cuts are forcing the agency to shut down. That means no more meds for Arthur and no more comforting conversations with her.
Arthur does find some solace when he meets Sophie (Zazie Beetz, “Deadpool 2” and TV’s “Atlanta”), a woman in his apartment complex that he has a brief affair with.
Everybody’s got a hungry heart.
However, the tender moments they share aren’t enough to rid or mask Arthur’s hurt and pain. His hostility reaches its boiling point when he’s assaulted first by some punk kids on the street corner where he’s working, and then by some snotty, entitled Wall Street hipsters while he’s on the subway.
The final straw is when Arthur is finally invited on the “Murray Franklin Live” show. It was supposed to be the opportunity of a lifetime, but Franklin shames him by broadcasting a clip of one of Arthur’s nightclub performances which is overshadowed by his laughing disorder.
You don’t joke with this “Joker” as Murray finds out in a cold-blooded way.
As Arthur continues to spiral out of control and into utter madness, he’s also sparked a movement and is now seen as a hero by many of the overlooked and downtrodden in Gotham City. They are opposed to the rich getting richer and mayoral candidates like Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen, TV’s “The Blacklist”)-- the father of Bruce—fattening their wallets in the process.
There’s a fascinating backstory here involving Arthur’s mom and Batman that fanboys might scoff at, but it’s woven so masterfully and works to perfection in the end.
What really works in “Joker” is Joaquin Phoenix. I can’t say enough about how amazing he is. Not only did Phoenix lose 52 pounds for this part, but he has said in interviews that he didn’t want to simply mirror past versions of the character, so he researched people suffering from pathological laughter and brought that aspect to the role.
You thought you knew the Joker. Not this one. That gaze, how he contorts his body, and that piercing laugh is downright frightening.
This “Joker” is wild and wildly entertaining.
Be sure to catch my N2Entertainment.net movie talk segment on the Kitty O'Neal Show Fridays now at 6:20 p.m. on radio station KFBK 1530 AM and 93.1 FM.
Check Out This Trailer For JOKER"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.