- At a breaking point with the Joker hullabaloo.
- The discovery that Kevin Can F**k Himself.
- Gwyneth Paltrow be Gwyneth Paltrow-ing.
- Extremely good Aretha Franklin casting.
- A Handmaid’s Tale-themed wedding, burn it all down.
It’s when a movie is not just a movie that the whole idea of film is at its best, and also at its sewer-muck, junkyard-inferno, snakes-in-moats worst. So god bless and, seriously, just go to hell with Joker.
This is one of those special, ghastly, insightful cases where criticism becomes warfare, fandom is assault, and discourse is a meaningless cacophony. It’s meaningless in that, as you ping-pong from extreme opinion and flash hot take to concerned safety warning and vehement defense, you’re no closer to gleaning an answer to what should be a very fair and simple question: Should you see the damn film?
Joker has earned polarizing reviews, extreme on both ends, but much praise for Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. In the same news cycle in which the film stunned the industry by winning the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, critics warned that its content might actually be dangerous, arguing that it glorifies the ethos of angry loners, disaffected white men, and “incels” (so-called involuntary celibates) proliferating in the country’s mass shooting epidemic.
Vanity Fair wrote that the film may be “irresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologizes.” Police forces around the country have publicly stated that they’ve beefed up security at opening weekend screenings. Critics against the idea that violent cinema begets violent action retaliated against this “overreaction.” Fans eager to see the film decried yet another blizzard of “snowflakes” trying to sanitize culture.
One side screams. The other screams back louder. The volume of the cacophony is thrilling, insinuating that something important is going on. But in the end, it’s an unpleasant distraction. No actual point is made.
Go see Joker, or don’t. (Though, call me crazy, when it comes to questions like “will I get shot at the movies this weekend?” I tend not to test whether people are overreacting.)
You may find it provocative, or you may find it insufferable. You may find it intellectually ludicrous and philosophically empty, but still be impressed by Phoenix. Both things can be true. (And kind of are.) That the film has become this line in the sand when it comes to “where we stand as a culture” is the real danger. Maybe we need a self-examination. This film, of all films, ain’t the one to trigger it.
The single most annoying thing about all this has been the comments made by writer-director Todd Phillips, whom you probably know best from the Hangover franchise and Old School, in response to criticism.
First, he blamed the concerns raised over the film’s content and message on the “far left,” because “outrage is a commodity.” It’s a Trump-ian deflection in lieu of an actual defense, explanation, or justification of his creative choices. But that’s not as infuriating as when he said he was driven to make the film after he left comedy because of “woke culture.” Read his full Vanity Fair quote here:
“Woke culture,” however you might define it, isn’t cancelling or stopping comedy, or banning irreverence or edginess. As my eyes go cross-eyed seeing the number of zeroes attached to the comedy deals being made with multiple streaming and cable services, I’d say the industry is booming. So is the interrogation of that industry.
That interrogation, sure, is amplified and perhaps not always as nuanced as it needs to be thanks to social media. But as any industry grows, so does the consideration of the value of its output, and what responsibility accompanies its surge.
If a person truly loved comedy, as Phillips purports to, then this should be something they welcome: true refining and consideration of their art form meant to better it, not get rid of it. That this refining and consideration is happening in real time, thanks to the blogosphere and social media, is fascinating. That these arenas give voice to previously marginalized groups whose voices, opinions, and criticisms had been silenced—and this is the reaction we’re seeing to their voices finally having a platform—is telling.
For what it’s worth, I’d say the straight white man who made the Hangover trilogy should have no hardship getting another comedy made in Hollywood. For all the hand-wringing over the responsibility of a film like Joker, there is no doubt that it will draw blockbuster crowds this weekend, something that will give him more opportunity and more creative license. What he seems uninterested in doing, based on these comments, is making an effort to evolve.
As critic Louis Virtel said on Twitter, “‘Comedy got hard because people are smarter now’ is a fun way to tell on yourself.” From my vantage point, the issue isn’t cancel culture or woke culture or PC culture. It is creators who only want their work to be applauded and celebrated, not discussed and dissected. That is not culture at all.
The Joker discourse is so exhausting because everyone thinks they’re doing something different, something renegade, something disruptive here. But it’s the same old song over and over again, a cultural record scratch. Send in the clowns, the clowns, the clowns, the clowns....
In 2012 when I was working for The Atlantic’s website as an entertainment writer, my boss went out of town and I was in charge of editing and posting the regular columns (we called them blogs then). When my editor returned a week later, she was disturbed to receive an email from one of those columnists with the subject line: “We need to talk about Kevin.” She was aghast. What could her baby gay protegee Kevin Fallon possibly have done?
Turns out the writer was filing a story about the film starring Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller, which was soon to be released. It was not an extremely fun time to be named Kevin, given the fact that the Kevin in the film was a disturbed teenager who commits mass murder at his school. You’d be surprised how many people would find ways to joke about that, somehow mocking my name and the film title.
That first Atlantic email, however, was a beautiful, innocent, hilarious mistake. We eventually memorialized it in a fake article for the website, terrified the entire time that we’d accidentally activate it.
I was reminded of that story this week after receiving a confusing email myself, one with the phrase “Kevin Can F**k Himself” in the subject line. AMC has apparently greenlit a new series with that very title. Looks like my trolls finally landed a development deal. (Hey-o!)
According to a press release, the series “probes the secret life of a type of woman we all grew up believing we knew: the sitcom wife,” and “looks to break television convention and ask what the world looks like through her eyes.” This is JUST FANTASTIC when you’re reminded of a little bit of showbiz absurdity from two years ago.
There was another “Kevin” show, Kevin Can Wait, starring Kevin James and Erinn Hayes. At the end of the first season, Hayes’ character was unceremoniously killed off the show. When I say unceremoniously, I mean the only time her death is acknowledged is when a coupon flyer addressed to her is sent to the house. James went on record to say that the decision was made because they were “literally just running out of ideas” for the character. Plight of the wife.
Anyway, I’m not insinuating that Kevin Can F**k Himself is inspired by all this. But I am saying if they cast Erinn Hayes, you’ll hear me hollering from the moon.
To catch you up: In a viral video from earlier this summer, it was revealed that Gwyneth Paltrow did not know she appeared in the film Spider-Man: Homecoming. In a viral video from this week, Paltrow herself revealed that she also never saw it after it came out. There is such a purity to this level of being out-of-touch that I find it as endearing and adorable as I do incorrigible.
The finest, most affecting stage performance I’ve seen on the Broadway stage was Cynthia Erivo’s turn as Celie in The Color Purple revival. Sometimes reviews are subjective opinions. Sometimes they’re just plain facts. Erivo’s unparalleled talent, on display in that production: Fact.
Anyway, she was just cast as Aretha Franklin in the new season of National Geographic’s Genius series, which is another fact: Perfect casting. Look what God has done.
Presented without comment. OK, one comment: Please read the photographers’ interview about the whole ordeal. “Everyone loves a good witch hunt... Apparently today we are their witch.”
What to watch this week:
Pain and Glory: Antonio Banderas and Pedro Almodóvar, because we could all use a swoon and a cry.
Batwoman: The Batman-adjacent character we deserve to explore this week!
What to skip this week:
Lucy in the Sky: No diaper! Rude.
Kids Say the Darndest Things: Confusingly unfunny.