Like a supervillain team-up unleashing mayhem on Gotham City, Variety and Warner Bros. came together on Tuesday morning to publish a hefty package of sponsored content promoting the DC comic book movie Joker as a serious contender at the 2020 Academy Awards. More laughable that offensive, the six (yes, six) articles come together to paint a picture of a tortured indie director (Todd Philips, The Hangover) and his critically celebrated movie (currently polling at 69% on Rotten Tomatoes, nice).
The entire thing is titled "A Case for Empathy," which isn't a bad topic, but not exactly one that jives with the movie Joker and its examination of a character totally lacking in both empathy for others and any sympathetic qualities himself. If anything, that title seems to be pointed at the movie it's discussing, begging audiences (and Oscar voters) to toss an award (or 11) to the serious comic book film. Or maybe the subject of our empathy should be this package of six (again, six) sponsored articles paid for by Warner and published by Variety that bend themselves into pretzels to convince us that Joker is a good movie and Todd Philips is a serious director.
I could rant about this all day, but we all have better things to do (the first Fast 9 teaser just hit!). So here are the four most laughable moments in "A Case for Empathy."
1. "Gandhi once said..."
Yep, Variety just compared Todd Philips to Mahatma Gandhi. Here's the full quote, which comes at the end of the central essay, "Joker Proves the Power of Empathy."
Gandhi once said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” The filmmakers of Joker have created a piece of art that is startling in both its cinematic élan and its compassionate portrait of society’s lost souls — the ones that we see around us, traumatized and dispossessed.
2. His "magnum opus"
As The Verge culture reporter Julia Alexander noted on Twitter, Variety's series of sponsored articles refer to Joker as Phillips' magnum opus "more than once." To be fair, if your best-known movie was about a bunch of middle-age frat dudes blacking out in Las Vegas, the bar for personal magnum opus is kinda low.
3. "Todd Phillips' Risky Vision"
That's literally just the title of the second essay in this series of sponsored posts, but it's also one of the most ridiculous things in the entire package. How is it risky to make an R-rated movie about the most iconic comic book villain of all time and release it on a weekend that's historically done well for movies about comic book villains? Did we all just wake up in an alternate reality where Deadpool and Venom don't exist?
Anyway, here's the first paragraph from that essay:
Reeling in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, Academy Award-nominated writer-director Todd Phillips decided to come out strong. He wanted to make a film about the evolution of a complex character whose malaise would depict a world profoundly out of sync.
Later, the author goes on to write:
Phillips’ filmmaking origins are in hard-hitting stories about complex characters and social discontent. With Joker, he found an unexpectedly perfect opportunity to revisit his cinematic roots.
Again, this is the guy who made Old School and three The Hangover movies.
4. Todd Phillips, cinematic maverick
Here's a third essay from Variety and Warner based on the premise that Todd Phillips is a "maverick." I'm kind of beyond words at this point, but the article ends with a quote from the director, so I'll share that here.
“What Joker has in common with my other movies is the idea of chaos," Phillips says. "If Joker is an agent of chaos, how do we get there? Is he made that way? Society made him? Is it a combination of events?”
Incisive questions, indeed — ones Phillips’ films continue to mine.
I guess Joker sort of answers those questions, but not in a particularly interesting way. This is a movie more interested in the chaos itself that what causes it, and the fact that Phillips' best explanation for his own movie is to gesture at a flimsy fan theory only confirms what we already knew: Joker is just another cynical Todd Phillips movie.
I just hope the academy doesn't fall for this devious trick and instead does the right thing by giving the award for Best Director to Bong Joon-ho.