BUZZ Review: Joaquin Phoenix delivers a masterful, reality-warping performance in JOKER

If Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t get an Oscar for his performance in JOKER…send in the clowns! (Photo: Warner Brothers Studios)

It really only takes one very bad day to send you down the irreversible path of madness.

Now, while this isn’t *exactly* the case in JOKER, the story of DC Comic’s infamous villain does develop similarly – exploding to a chaotic crescendo.

The visuals were resplendent, saturated with a 1970s nostalgia; the performances gritty and empathetic; JOKER is a film that you can keep up with thematically.

Okay BUZZ fam, if you didn’t already know, JOKER brilliantly subverts expectations on mental health and the human predisposition towards unfettered violence – all while leaving viewers guessing as to what is real and what is fantasy.

Living with pseudobulbar affect (PBA), where one has uncontrollable bouts of laughter, is a daily struggle for Arthur Fleck in 1970s Gotham. (Photo: Warner Brothers Studios)

Why do I say this? Take a trip down the rabbit hole with me…

WARNING: There are HEAVY SPOILERS on JOKER going forward, if you haven’t yet seen the film and want to preserve your reactions, turn back now.

What is reality?

From the opening title card to the end credits, JOKER is an absolutely wild ride. Dark and menacingly haunting, the film has you questioning your emotional responses to the visceral portrayal of violence.

‘Wait, why am I celebrating mayhem and calculated murder?’

JOKER leads many a viewer along the tormented rationale if what you’ve witnessed isn’t a part of the main character, Arthur Fleck’s, beyond reparable psyche.

A clown-for-hire by day, Arthur Fleck genuinely tries his best to live in a callous, unforgiving society that throws him one bad hand too many in JOKER (Photo: Warner Brothers Studios)

The movie pulls no punches, snaring you into a cinematic roller coaster. At times, you’re brought to feel sympathy for Arthur, who was genuinely trying his best, while living in 1970s Gotham City.

Hitting you where it hurts…in solitude

If you look at it objectively, JOKER is a heartbreaking story about being alone in a society with little support. To be left feeling sad, destitute and worthless almost every day, with little hope or joy to look toward.

That hope itself is cruelly fleeting, as reality is quick to punch you back down to the ground — to remind you, repeatedly, that the world is not your friend. It owes you nothing. And that alone is a hard pill to swallow for even the strongest-willed.

Dealing with pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is no easy task, but the callousness and indifference of Gotham’s citizens slowly warps the aspiring stand-up comedian Fleck into the clown prince of crime.

It definitely deserves its hard R rating. JOKER, the two-hour origin story, is decorated with strong, bloody violence, disturbing behaviour and littered with ‘Would I do that?’ introspections for its viewers.

But what Arthur wants, more than anything, is to be a successful stand-up comedian. Why can’t they let mans be great?!! (Photo: Warner Brothers Studios)

So, psychoanalysis aside, for the most part, JOKER centres around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen.

Beauty amidst the chaos…

And, we get treated to a new beginning for Bruce Wayne, as the future Batman meets his greatest foe as a child – before having his parents tragically ripped from him.

But let’s be honest, if we keep true to the source material from DC Comics, the Joker has no ‘true’ origin story, as he himself, damaged by the madness he embraces, doesn’t know how his new life began.

Director and co-writer Todd Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix (Oscar BUZZ has come early!), is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society.

A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds, time and time again, that the joke always seems to be on him.

One bad day rewards Arthur Fleck another in JOKER, sending the wounded man slowly down a descent into madness and chaos (Photo: Warner Brothers Studios)

Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one (questionably?) bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this compellingly fiendish character study.

It doesn’t help that his mother, Penny, suffers from narcissistic personality disorder and, through an abusive relationship, subjected young Arthur to a traumatic, squalid childhood that fundamentally damaged her adopted son.

Oh yeah… Arthur’s adopted!

Penny Fleck looks dotingly on her son Arthur, who grows to hate the nickname ‘Happy’ she has coined for him since childhood. (Photo: Warner Brothers Studios)

Sorry, getting serious again. After several cascading revelations, the unhinged Fleck embraces the chaos he started after a gruesome triple killing – as Gotham City is overrun by clowns, all angry at the city’s aristocracy.

JOKER: Twisted personified

The film provides a terrific conceit as Arthur/Joker’s journey to insanity is a mirror image of Gotham’s descent into anarchy. JOKER ends up being completely convincing and presents an even grittier picture of Gotham’s underbelly.

UGH…give this man an Oscar, NOW!!! (Photo: Warner Brothers Studios)

BUZZ fam, listen. Only an actor of Joaquin Phoenix’s calibre could pull off such a tightrope of a character.

The man contorts eerily, his laughs send shudders through your core and who is dedicated enough to shed 55 pounds just for a movie role?!

His portrayal of a personality was so perfect and so confounded, many times we as viewers are taken aback that we’d end up rooting for Arthur, despite his inner demons getting the better of him.

Similar to his depressing life, the entire mood of Gotham City is cold and unwelcoming in JOKER (Photo: Warner Brothers Studios)

The writing gives some nuanced psychological pushes that makes Arthur’s devolution into a completely convincing metamorphosis. It’s a fairy-tale that rots unapologetically into a nightmare, fitting for one of the greatest supervillains ever created.

JOKER is certified BUZZ-worthy. Send in the clowns!