The People’s Joker Review

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It’s no secret that Todd Phillips’ Joker is getting a sequel later this October. For a prominent space on Film Twitter, though, The People’s Joker is the year’s must-see Batman picture. Vera Drew’s film has sparked numerous conversations about parody and copyright. Walking out of the theater, it’s also sure to inspire think pieces about self-discovery and self-acceptance. The semi in semi-autobiographical should probably be emphasized since Batman, the Joker, and other Gotham residents represented in the film aren’t real. Yet, Batman did have a profound effect on Drew, a transgender woman. As reflected in the film, Drew has always been trans, but seeing Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever as a six-year-old was a moment of enlightenment.

Drew also stars as the protagonist, whose mother refuses to humor the fact that her child is transgender. Yet, she has no problem pumping her child full of Smylex to repress the truth. After years of forcing a smile, the protagonist sets out to get the last laugh, reinventing herself as Joker the Harlequin. Even after leaving her abusive parents, the protagonist enters another toxic relationship with Mr. J (Kane Distler). While not physically abusive like their comic counterpart, Mr. J is emotionally abusive in ways the protagonist doesn’t pick up on until the cycle is repeated. Just as Harley Quinn would come into her own in the comics, The People’s Joker is about a woman taking control of her life.

Superheroes like the X-Men and Spider-Man are allegories for going through puberty. Something similar can be said about The People’s Joker, albeit from the perspective of a trans girl becoming a trans woman. While comic books serve as a clever parallel for telling Drew’s coming-of-age story, certain elements of the Batman lore could’ve been better woven into the narrative. Ra’s al Ghul plays a significant role, although the film doesn’t do much to satirize the character. Batman is naturally present, but he feels underutilized. Other side characters may leave you wanting more, especially Bob Odenkirk as Bob the Goon. Still, whenever the focus is on Drew and Distler, the film is a solid balance of parody and LGBTQ+ empowerment.

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Drew was inspired to create The People’s Joker after her friend Bri LeRose sent her $12 to re-edit Todd Phillips’ film. While the final budget was more than $12, it’s still a far cry from the $200 million Phillips got for Joker: Folie à Deux. Crowdfunding played an essential role with over 100 animators reportedly contributing to the characters and backgrounds. The blending of live-action and animation gives the film the gritty yet colorful aesthetic of Ralph Bakshi or Nostalgia Critic production. Although the resources were visibly limited, that’s part of the charm. You can tell that this was a true guerrilla production with the filmmakers making the most of what they have and dedicating every fiber of their being just to get past the finish line.

The People’s Joker has the makings of a midnight movie staple in the vein of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That said, the film will likely benefit from being experienced in a theater with a crowd. I watched an at-home screener, which admittedly might have sucked out some of the enjoyment. Flying solo, not every joke and surreal moment lands. Whether watching alone or with a packed house, it’s hard not to admire Drew’s emotional honesty and audacity in overcoming virtually every conceivable production obstacle. Time will only tell how large of a following the film will garner, especially with Warner Bros. Discovery standing in the way. As long as it reaches one trans kid coming to understand who they are, though, Drew will have done her job.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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