The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

“The People’s Joker” review: Putting clown makeup on gender identity and calling it a parody

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Yu Yu Blue

“The People’s Joker” is so incredibly bizarre that it almost overshadows its own brilliance. Using Batman villains as metaphors for queer identity, the unsuspecting coming-of-age film utilizes the parody genre to mask its true intent. The only issue is getting past the first 30 minutes for “The People’s Joker” to reveal the personality and intrigue that turn a silly satire into a truly unique experience.

The film follows writer and director Vera Drew as Joker the Harlequin, an aspiring clown hoping to find their place and identity in Gotham City’s comedy scene. While struggling with her gender understanding, Joker breaks laws and fights capitalist censorship among the rest of Gotham’s “villainous” rejects.

The film explicitly states it is an unauthorized parody with an opening title card, but it is hard to brand it as only that. Instead, it is a critical look at comedy, capitalism and gender roles haphazardly covered by easily recognizable clown makeup that make the movie both a gimmick and a hard-hitting story. The parodies translate easily, crafting a world that’s so easy to understand as both a play on reality and a warped comic book narrative. Arkham Asylum is a conversion therapy practice, Smylex is a pharmaceutical drug and Batman is one of the real villains in Drew’s narrative. 

There is so much happening all the time in “The People’s Joker.” Meaning the voice-over, confessional scenes, colorful costuming and dry script can be overwhelming at the best of times and downright suffocating at its worst. Weirdly enough, it works. The characters and plot revel in their lame humor and dry fourth wall breaks, creating an extreme juvenility that becomes incredibly interesting as the movie progresses. The entire movie is filmed with camera angles and shots reminiscent of an early 2000s YouTube sketch comedy video, with crappy green screen animation to match. Using the questionable live-action footage and mixing it with variations of stylized animation scenes creates a visually stimulating experience to match the chaos of the character choices.

The extremity in its filmmaking makes the rare moments of quiet character reflection wonderfully powerful. There is one scene in particular during the third act of the movie between Joker and her mom that feels like being hit in the face with cold water. It’s a moment of raw honesty between two people who, up until this point, have only scratched the surface of their tense relationship. This is not an awkward passion project or a low-budget experimental movie only held together by dodgy editing and copious amounts of stage makeup — it’s a film innovating its medium and messaging through unhinged creativity. 

What you are left with when the credits roll (other than a bewildered look on your face and a million questions about how this passed copyright laws) is a beautiful look at identity told from the Joker’s unassuming point of view. Drew reclaims comedy as a true platform for change, not just a form of media peddled by the already ultra-successful comedian we’re used to seeing. “The People’s Joker” pushes creative expression to the edge of parody and satire, looking into the void of contemplative comedy and taking a hit of Smylex when the void stares back. It is a wonderfully complex story; you just have to dig through a few layers of comic book allegories and trippy editing to find it.

“The People’s Joker” will screen at the Music Box Theatre April 26-27 with Drew in attendance for a post-film Q&A.  

*This film screened at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival

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