Last month, Joker not only received an eight-minute standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival, it also went on to win the festival’s biggest prize, the Golden Lion. It would mark the first time a comic book movie has ever won the Golden Lion, an award whose past winners include The Shape of Water and Roma.
However, the film has also been on the receiving end of major backlash. Many have called the film “irresponsible”, one that “glorifies violence” and “celebrates” a character who blames the world for his problems. There were a number of people who also labelled the film a “Citizen Kane for incels.”
I personally push back on that criticism. While I understand why the film can be a little problematic, I also think there’s enough nuance and depth in the screenplay that shows us that the character isn’t someone cool or to be idolized. Having said that, I also think a lot of the problems lie with the director, Todd Phillips, who’s doing a terrible job of talking about his film. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Phillips had this to say:
“Go try to be funny nowadays with this woke culture. There were articles written about why comedies don’t work anymore—I’ll tell you why, because all the f*cking funny guys are like, ‘F*ck this sh*t, because I don’t want to offend you.’ It’s hard to argue with 30 million people on Twitter. You just can’t do it, right? So you just go, ‘I’m out.’ I’m out, and you know what? With all my comedies—I think that what comedies in general all have in common—is they’re irreverent. So I go, ‘How do I do something irreverent, but f*ck comedy? Oh I know, let’s take the comic book movie universe and turn it on its head with this.’ And so that’s really where that came from.”
His comments have enraged plenty of film journalists and movie lovers in general, understandably so. First of all, over the past few years, we’ve seen really good comedies like Booksmart, Game Night and Eighth Grade, all of which are arguably miles better than his Hangover sequels. There are also comedy TV series like BoJack Horseman and Rick and Morty that are constantly pushing the boundaries.
Phillips has made a groundbreaking film in Joker, but through his interviews, he comes off as both arrogant and grossly ignorant.
Check out some of the reactions online:
As someone who liked #Joker, I really wish Todd Phillips would stop talking and just let Joaquin Phoenix speak for the film.
— Scott Mendelson (@ScottMendelson) October 1, 2019
If Todd Phillips can resent wokeness in comedy, can I resent the fact that TAXI DRIVER and THE KING OF COMEDY couldn't get made at a major studio today, so we have to have them reconfigured as a dumb superhero movie?
— Scott Tobias (@scott_tobias) October 1, 2019
Dear Todd Phillips,
You were lazy. Comedy kept moving, because comedy always keeps moving. You couldn't keep up, on account of how you are a lazy fuck. @OhNoSheTwitnt hits harder than one of your movies every goddamn day and she's doing this in her spare time at work. https://t.co/IyJObTcZpY
— Quinn Cummings (@quinncy) October 1, 2019
This comes at the heels of the director comparing the film to John Wick.
“The movie still takes place in a fictional world. It can have real-world invocations, options, but it’s a fictional character in a fictional world that’s been around for 80 years. The one that bugs me more is the toxic white male thing when you go, oh I just saw John Wick 3. He’s a white male who kills 300 people and everybody’s laughing and hooting and hollering. Why does this movie get held to different standards? It honestly doesn’t make sense to me.”
This doesn’t quite make sense and has caused many to question if Phillips even understands his own film. Comparing John Wick to Joker is like comparing Die Hard to Taxi Driver or something along those lines. The reason why a lot of people are wary of Joker isn’t that it’s violent. It isn’t about the amount of blood that’s spilt or the body count. It’s the way the character is framed (i.e. is he framed as someone who should be looked up to?), it’s whether or not the character is indicted by the end of the film (in the eyes of the audience).
And that’s what Todd Phillips doesn’t seem to understand, at least judging by his interviews. If he doesn’t agree with the pushback, shouldn’t he be talking about the nuances and texture of the film instead?
Joker is currently out in Malaysian cinemas.