Review by Sean Boelman
One of the buzziest films to play at this year’s TIFF, even if the buzz wasn’t intentional, The People’s Joker managed to make a huge splash despite being seen by what has to have been the fewest people. An unbridled work of artistic expression, this is a movie you’ll want to keep an eye out for… if you are ever able to see it.
Inspired by characters from DC Comics and the filmmaker’s own experience of coming out as trans, the film follows a clown who grapples with her gender identity in a city full of heroes and villains. In a way, writer/director/star Vera Drew is reclaiming the Joker story, creating something that is literally the antithesis of its toxicity and all that it has come to stand for.
The use of DC characters and IP has gotten the movie in a bit of hot water and caused the filmmaker to pull it from the rest of the festivals it was slated to play in. However, what we have here is actually a tremendously hilarious parody, taking these familiar beats and characters and using them in a truly subversive way.
The interpretations of these characters are honestly pretty fantastic. Drew’s Joker is a combination of Joker and Harley Quinn, and the result is a character that feels much more fleshed out than either character in their respective movies in the DCEU. Also of note is Nathan Faustyn’s Penguin, which is a unique take on the character.
Of course, this was a very personal film for Drew given that it is loosely semi-autobiographical. And it is perhaps one of the best explorations of LGBTQ themes there has ever been, largely because Drew refuses to sanitize her experience for the sake of a cishet audience. That is what you get when you make a movie that is, first and foremost, for yourself: complete and utter honesty.
Drew’s background is largely in comedy television (she’s worked on shows like On Cinema, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and Who Is America?), so her movie obviously has a very fast-paced approach to its comedy. It’s a combination of deadpan, shock humor, and sight gags, and the right audience will be left rolling.
The technical aspects of this film obviously aren’t super polished given that it’s a DIY, crowdfunded movie that was predominantly shot against a green screen, but it’s beyond charming in all of its imperfections. And despite its low-budget, it manages to get the viewer fully immersed in this sillier version of Gotham City.
The People’s Joker is undoubtedly one of the most unique films that you (probably) won’t see this year. Although it isn’t a perfect movie, Drew has made something so idiosyncratic and so earnest that it’s hard not to respect it.
The People’s Joker screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 8-18.