THE PEOPLE’S JOKER – Review by Justina Walford

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I firmly believe in the quote, “What is most personal is most universal.” Nothing proves my point more than watching dark, absurdist superhero satire where I’ve only watched half the movies referenced and chuckling like I’m watching my own home videos. Vera Drew did precisely that with The People’s Joker.

The People’s Joker is set in an alternate movie universe of DC heroes and villains with a twist. Well, with a lot of twists. Our heroine, Joker the Harlequin, is an aspiring clown trying to join Gotham City’s sole comedy program in a world where comedy is against the law, and Lorne Michaels (voiced by Maria Bamford? Genius!) rules the legal comedy landscape. Joker the Harlequin is not funny, she’s trans, and she can’t “Yes, and…” A comedy career is full of hurdles for her! To make it even more challenging, Vera Drew’s autobiographical protagonist is told to show herself -her true self- in her act when she is trying desperately to figure out who she really is. Throughout the film, she finds a good friend, falls in love, and struggles with her mother. And, yes, she finds her true self.

Do not be fooled by the wild animation, colorful outfits, and a best friend who is a (the?) Penguin. The story is about real and relatable feelings and rites of passage for many artists and anyone who struggles with the binary. I found myself relating to and rooting for our protagonist with all my heart. Her conversations with the audience make me love her even more in a Fleabag sort of transparency.

My only distraction was being someone who was only a touch familiar with the DC universe and struggling with references I could tell were likely evident to someone who watched the movies or read the comics. But you don’t need to know the fiction references to get sucked into the film. The strength is in the references of the heart. This one-woman show, thrown into an experimental blend of animation and live-action, is all about the universal moments of our lives: smiling through the pain, finding family, and being in new, scary worlds on a journey to know ourselves. Yes, this film is beautifully tailored to the trans experience. And it is written in a way that includes every woman’s journey of breaking out of societal and familial boxes to find her true self.

Joker the Harlequin goes from family pain to found family, healing through bad romance, and a journey into self-discovery that includes a childhood obsession with trashy television. Come on, now. If you’re reading this review, that’s you, too. Worth the watch.

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Justina Walford

Justina Walford is a film critic on a mission to spotlight the voices of visionary women behind the camera. Coming from a background in writing for stage and screen, Justina celebrates the diverse narratives and unique perspectives women bring to film. Her reviews not only critique cinematic techniques but also amplify the importance of representation in the film industry. Justina especially enjoys the edgier side of film in the rich and diverse landscape of art created by women. She is always on the hunt for trailblazers in horror and experimental work.