The People’s Joker Review

The People’s Joker
The People’s Joker
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“In my earliest recollections, I always wanted to be a Joker.” These are Vera Drew’s first lines in The People’s Joker. It is riffing on Martin Scorsese’s opening line from Goodfellas but also alluding to how Todd Phillips’ Joker copied Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. As well as being an intentional reference, the visual presentation sees Drew dressed in attire similar to one of several joker outfits worn by Joaquin Phoenix (which obviously goes back decades to a supervillain who has been around for over 80 years). Each new writer—director—actor has her own fantastic vision and that is why, in this case somehow hilarious, the dress turns out to be a joke.

This list of gags and allusions could go on forever, rolling up a katamari of artifacts from the intersecting histories of film, comedy and comics – that’s how packed with content The People’s Joker is. If it felt like Phillips’ Joker was trying very hard to separate itself from Batman ‘s most dangerous enemy ‘s mythology., Drew’s movie however does not mind reminding you that it is as much about the lore of every copyright-skirting character onscreen as it is its own unique work.

It’s a completely different movie at all -Joker himself (played by Verra herself) shows how he ended up where they are now – almost hosting UCB Live or sort instead for such big institutions of comedy like Saturday Night Live and Upright Citizens Brigade. However, this appears straightforward enough since it explicitly parallels Arthur Fleck; yet again The Peoples’ Joker subverts these expectations making us believe in his handcrafted version within DC sandbox where there is transgender cumming-of-age story instead. So Smylex (the references just keep piling up) got them addicted because their mother worried they were “born in wrong body” so she convinced herself that she was to blame. In the face of rejection from a status quo that sees room for funny men (“Jokers”) and funny women (“Harlequins”) but nothing in between’, this character moves to Gotham and becomes the leader of an “anti-comedy” troupe. This may sound like some comic hyperbole; yet at least Drew and co-writer Bri LaRose are doing exactly what has been done by anyone who has ever written a Batman story-although they were lucky not having such boundaries created around them by any publisher dictating what is and is not a Batman story.

Getting into The People’s Joker doesn’t mean trying to rip apart where it starts as a “trans coming-of-age narrative” and ends up as an “anti-comedy parody of Joker.” It means embracing both sides. And the film is better off for that, because any character from these worlds can be either. While there has been much discussion about how comic books are our “modern mythology,” no one seems to have understood the true meaning of this idea when applied to cinema more than those behind The People’s Joker. They treat Lorne Michaels (the real-life impresario of Saturday Night Live) just as much as Jared Leto’s take on the role of Joker as actual people –let alone toys for big business sponsored figures’ set positions in corporate-approved poses. In many ways, it can be seen as glorified fanfiction, framing something deeply personal within characters and storylines familiar to millions .

Think about Joker’s voiceover that is always present and continuously describes her life in Gotham City and identity crisis. The narration almost sounds like an autobiography, Drew speaking from her experience as a transgender person in comedy – there’s something comfortable in the way The People’s Joker both celebrates and critiques these defining aspects of its narrative, which is audible through Drew’s intonation. Moreover, this narration could be thought of as a text box above a comic panel nonchalantly guiding the reader through it while making jokes at every turn.

Sometimes the aesthetic shifts in The People’s Joker are so sudden that they have been described as whiplash-inducing; much like what might happen when moving from one issue to another in comics with different styles, experiences or techniques. Just upfront, the movie tells us it was made “during Covid-19 pandemic on three different continents by Vera Drew and over 100 artists” such abundance can be seen just by looking at how many different art styles are presented here (e.g., puppetry, animated interludes or even jarring CGI characters like genderqueer robotic poison ivy). This approach is not unlike Shrek Retold or Our RoboCop remake which are all crowdsourced projects without direct adaptation. That contrast reveals that there is no right or wrong way to tell a superhero story but the point here is articulated by The People’s Joker alone.

Drew seems to be paying homage to and disassembling Gotham City alongside her collaborators until it becomes almost completely unidentifiable. DC “villains” who complicate morality seem to hold special appeal for this film for instance Ra’s al Ghul is imagined as both mentor and monster David Liebe Hart gives us Ember Knight who reinterprets Mister Mxyzptlk into relatively benign inter-dimensional sorcery. Almost all characters except those who make cameo appearances need to reflect the dual nature within each of us. Life – similar to comics that are more interesting – is not that simple as either “good” or “bad”, likewise, The People’s Joker resists such labels. This art piece is so ugly and beautiful at the same time, at times insane and comprehensible, it could be a Joker but also Harley Quinn; ready to be submerged in a pool of estrogen while welcoming the viewers for whom they really are.


The People’s Joker may very well be a fan-film par excellence: one that shows how we can take our own identities from works that have consumed us throughout our lives. (In this case, it was Batman.) However also serving as an attack against those who try to control our reality in terms of art, or an anti-comedy parody of Joker told through the lens of being transgender and facilitated by over 100 artists and writer-director-star Vera Drew.

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