Review ‘The People’s Joker’: Vera Drake’s Unauthorized Batman Parody

Review ‘The People’s Joker’: Vera Drake’s Unauthorized Batman Parody

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In the DC Extended Universe, it’s not the villains who have identity issues, it’s the heroes. Watching his parents get killed, Bruce Wayne adopted a teenage sidekick and now spends his nights cosplaying as the creature everyone associates with vampires. Kal-El also saw his parents die and goes through life trying to carry on as the earthy Clark Kent, wearing spandex under his work clothes, just in case. These aren’t the traits of well-adjusted standards, and as such, there’s a huge subversive appeal to seeing trans artist Vera Drew turn such iconic characters inside out in the illegitimate wonder that is “The People’s Joker”.

Coming from a place of deep fan love and equally deep institutional distrust, Drew’s anarchic feature film parody mischievously treads the line of fair use, so much so that the director pulled the film from the Toronto Film Festival after the raucous premiere of Midnight Madness, citing “rights issues.” .” But what did she expect? The irreverent underground project rediscovers the Joker’s origin story as a strange coming-of-age/coming-to-term tale, using a mishmash of styles: mostly raw live-action of the kind you’d expect from publicly accessible programming ( shot against greenscreens, then composed with rudimentary CG sets), embellished with various forms of homemade animation.

It features licensed characters — including Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and the Penguin — as allies of his gender-bending antihero, an aspiring stand-up comedian who calls himself “Joker the Harlequin.” It is therefore only normal for DC to issue a cancellation letter. These characters have emerged as some of American culture’s most beloved modern myths, rebooted and reimagined countless times by the company that runs them. Identification is actively encouraged, until it isn’t, such as when a Joker-clad mass shooter appears on a movie, or when a comic accuses Batman of “grooming” his fledgling ward.

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Since both “The Batman” and “The Joker” have joined the conversation about toxic masculinity, they make ideal targets for a pop culture-conscious performer who wants to embrace her inner woman—provided she’s not shy about meeting a few corporate lawyers. to hit in the process. In all honesty, DC isn’t the enemy here, despite wanting to protect its multi-billion dollar brand. The company has often been avant-garde on queer representation: Robin came out of the comics as bisexual last year, and HBO Max’s adult-focused “Harley Quinn” tone is constantly pushing the boundaries.

Meanwhile, Drew knows what she’s doing. A veteran alt-comedy pro, she served as editor-in-chief of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America?” and regularly collaborates with Tim Heideckers Abso Lutely Prods., whose cheerful junky postmodern aesthetic she wholeheartedly embraces here. Apparently, this project started out as a challenge to recreate the Joaquin Phoenix “Joker” movie for a friend, then went from a subversive resampling job (relying on footage from across the Batman media verse) to something much more personal when Drew lost everything. . those obscure clips in favor of original DIY creations.

Relying on contributions of widely varying quality from dozens of other like-minded outsiders, Drew borrows the character’s “The Joker’s” idea as a crappy comedian with mental health issues—except in this case, instead of being an incel schizophrenic, the Joker has to do with gender dysphoria aroused by Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever” (the movie that put the famous nipples on the Batsuit). “The People’s Joker” begins in childhood, when an unlucky boy – dead name squeaked – is dragged to Arkham Asylum by his controlling mother (Lynn Downey). There a quack psychiatrist prescribes him smilex gas to fight depression. From the start, it’s clear that this renegade Batman movie is set in a hall of mirrors version of the world Bob Kane created, where Batman TV shows and movies coexist with the characters that inspired them.

Smilex conjures up an artificial smile on little _‘s face, but what really amuses the poor kid is dressing up as a face painted cross between Joker and Harley Quinn – that and watching the UCB sketch comedy show on television. Joker identifies as this misunderstood Batman villain and signs up for improv classes with Ra’s Al Ghul (David Liebe Hart, about whom Drew directed the 2019 “I Love David” series). Failing that, she couples up with a beak-nosed classmate (Nathan Faustyn) and sets up an “anti-comedy” club in an abandoned warehouse, drawing other Batman baddies to their open-mic nights. . (Bob Odenkirk plays Bob the Goon, Robert Wuhl turns up as himself, and Heidecker’s voice as the Alex Jones-esque wingnut on TV.)

Most movie humor reflects the intentionally outrageous, ironically aloof variation found in internet memes and Adult Swim series. These Andy Kaufman-esque routines may be an acquired taste, but it’s encouraging to see the black box theater becoming a safe space for Joker and her friends – something like a virtual reality room where outsiders gather in avatar form (which isn’t so). far from how it worked for this pandemic-made project). While working there, Drew’s character falls for Mr. J (Kane Distler), another trans artist, this one modeled after the much-maligned Jared Leto Joker from “Suicide Squad”. Turns out his childhood was even more screwed up than hers (the movie’s pot-bellied Batman had an active hand in that, recruiting young J to be his Robin), making for yet another unhealthy relationship in a movie that eventually holds up: “Heroes and villains don’t exist. They were just invented to sell you soda. Life isn’t a cartoon.”

Maybe not, but Drew goes out of her way to make “The People’s Joker” reflect the life she knows, using millennial meta-irony — the kind of biting cynicism that makes it hard to tell if she’s planning on being satirical or to be sincere – to criticize the institutions she once held dear. The film pokes fun at canceled comics Bill Cosby and Louis CK, humiliates a Sim-looking version of Lorne Michaels and describes John Lasseter as “a walking border crossing in a Hawaiian shirt” while showing off his own ability to cross. That Drew can amuse, insult, and yet bring it all to a heartfelt emotional finale (with magical transfee “Mix Mxyzptlk”) is quite the hat trick.

Logically, “The People’s Joker” defies close analysis — in the sense that certain plot holes seem big enough for a Batmobile to drive through — even if it gives media literate, gender-aware college kids multiple levels to unpack. The version screened at TIFF (which will almost certainly evolve) featured music that Drew can’t explain in any way and openly tributes to “Batman: The Animated Series,” redrawn by her own team. As standout business card projects go (think the short “Spirit of Christmas” that launched the careers of “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone), this one shows more than Drew’s ingenuity and organizing power. Now, if she can just fix those pesky problems, maybe people can see “The People’s Joker.”

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