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THE PEOPLE’S JOKER

Written By:

Nick Spacek
Peoples-Joker-1

At this point, the story of writer/director Vera Drew’s superhero parody/satire The People’s Joker is better known than the film’s plot. Drew’s movie was unceremoniously pulled from several festival screenings shortly after its public debut at TIFF in 2022 due to what were described as rights issues. It did not have another screening until the summer of 2023 before bowing in theatres this April.

That said, the film is honestly far more interesting than the drama that has surrounded it for the past two years. In The People’s Joker, Drew has crafted a narrative that traces her own journey as a transwoman and the expectations placed on her as such by society, but also a riotously funny deconstruction of comic book origin stories via her satiric depiction of these iconic DC characters.

Her Joker the Harlequin is both the Joker and Harley Quinn, but there’s also Mr J (Kane Distler), who is both the Joker and the Jason Todd and Carrie Kelley incarnations of Robin, the Boy Wonder. Scattered throughout are a paedophilic closeted Batman (Phil Braun), nearly the entire Batman rogue’s gallery, and enough references to both comic and filmic incarnations of these characters to make any fan gasp in delight at Drew’s subversion of everything about them.

Vis-a-vis a narrative about Harlequin the Joker realising her true self and discarding any notions of how society believes she ought to be, we journey backstage at a clown-themed SNL-style sketch show, enter into anti-comedy warehouse venues and see our protagonist grow into who she was meant to be.

The storyline is equal parts gaspingly funny, heartbreakingly true in its depiction of how the public treats trans people, and desperately accurate in how an abusive relationship can keep one from achieving the goals which one deserves to meet. Drew’s to-camera narrative interstitials are heartbreaking in their openness, and one gets the feeling that they’re only half in character, with the remaining 50% coming straight from personal experience.

If you have an open mind and the desire to really get weird, The People’s Joker – a movie with 2D animation, a transformative scene depicted using action figures, and CGI out of a Korean news program – will have your eyes tearing from both laughter and crying. All this and Robert Wuhl presented in a Cameo video as his 1989 Batman character Alexander Knox saying, “Legally, I can’t say any of this” in the midst of a montage. What more could you want from a deconstruction of comic book movies?

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THE PEOPLE’S JOKER is out now in the US.

Nick Spacek

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