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‘Joker’ Reviews Are In: Critics Vs. Audience
Joaquin Phoenix attends the 57th New York Film Festival - "Joker" Intro and Q&A at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on October 02, 2019 in New York City.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Film at Lincoln Center

On Thursday, the DC film “Joker” played in theaters across the country, though the official day of release is not until Friday, and audience reviews quickly poured into review site Rotten Tomatoes.

Viewers loved the film, scoring “Joker” at a solid 93% approval as of Friday morning. Critics, on the other hand, scored the film with a much lower collective score of 69% approval, which is still technically “certified fresh” on the review site. 

“The cinematography is bold and the performance from Joaquin Phoenix is truly captivating in Joker,” said one of the site’s audience “super reviewers,” scoring the film a 4.28/5. 

One five-star review read: “The movie is great! I’ve never seen a film like this before. The movie is so intricate and complex that it transforms into a compelling authentic story. I believe that this movie will go down in history as one of the greatest ever.”

“I love the visuals and acting, amazing work,” a verified audience review gushed. “[Joaquin] Phoenix kills this portrayal. A must see!!”

“Masterclass in acting and directing!” another five-star review raved. 

If you’ve seen any of the breathless coverage of “Joker” leading up to its opening, the discrepancy between the audience and the critics’ score was largely predicable. Journalists have routinely cast the film as controversial for its apparent nod to “incels” (young men who are involuntarily celibate); likewise, gun control activist groups have raised concerns over the art’s potential to inspire a mass shooter.

Richard Brody at The New Yorker was not pleased with the film, scoring it “rotten,” as opposed to “fresh.” “A movie of a cynicism so vast and pervasive as to render the viewing experience even emptier than its slapdash aesthetic does,” he wrote. 

Th critic also took issue with “Joker” actor Joaquin Phoenix’s “delivery.” “[Phoenix] delivers is less a performance than a display of his bag of actorly tricks—and they’re pretty wonderful, but they adorn a character who’s an empty framework, and, to all appearances, empty by design, for fear of alienating the target audience,” wrote Brody.

He also claimed “Joker” is a “crucial mockery” and “callously commercial imitation” of “Black Panther — “a comic-book-based movie that infuses its framework with rigorously conceived and boldly assertive political visions to go with its elaborate world-building.” “Joker,” on the other hand, “is a wannabe movie that also wants to be all things to all viewers, that imitates the notion of adding substance while only subtracting it,” he said, “a viewing experience of a rare, numbing emptiness.” 

Jordan Hoffman, writing at The Guardian, called Joker “bleak and juvenile.” Hoffman took issue with Phoenix’s acting, stating that the actor does not deserve an Oscar. 

“Does Joaquin Phoenix have a shot at a statuetee? Anything’s possible, I suppose, but if it were up to me, I would say heck no. I like when awards go to best acting not most acting,” he wrote. 

Dana Stevens, a top critic writing at Slate, said of the film: “Joker is a bad movie, yes: It’s predictable, clichéd, deeply derivative of other, better movies, and overwritten to the point of self-parody.” Stevens headlined her review: “The Real Reason to Skip Joker Is That It’s Boring.” 

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