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‘Unauthorized’ Trans Reimagining Is a Delight


'Unauthorized' Trans Reimagining Is a Delight


Summary

  • The People’s Joker is an unauthorized Batman parody full of absurd humor and social commentary.
  • Vera Drew’s mixed media film tackles LGBTQ+ themes and societal norms in a wacky, visual experience.
  • Featuring colorful characters and clever storytelling, this anti-comedy is a must-watch for indie film fans.



As new details about Joker: Folie à Deux emerge — and as fans await season 5 of the Harley Quinn series, it seems there is no shortage of Batman villain material coming to the masses, across both ends of the spectrum: serious and humorous. But what about parody? Yes, we’re talking about straight-up mockery. Bottoms did it and became a smashing success, and that wasn’t too long ago. The hilarious little subgenre of cinema isn’t quite dead, and The People’s Joker takes mockery cinema to extraordinarily wacky new heights, in more ways than one.


Although it had been banned, indie filmmaker Vera Drew’s little feature-that-could, which effectively sheds light on Drew’s real-life journey and the LGBTQ+ community, is now getting a theatrical release. Hurray!

The People's Joker

The People’s Joker (2024)

4/5

Release Date
April 5, 2024

Director
Vera Drew

Runtime
1hr 32min

Writers
Vera Drew , Bri LeRose

Pros

  • Biting satirical humor
  • A range of mediums used creatively
  • Thematically rich, covering ideas of queerness, abusive relationships, and superhero mythology
Cons

  • Pacing falters toward the end


Vera Drew as the Joker in The People's Joker
Altered Innocence


The movie already starts with a bang, but in an alternative sort of way, thereby setting the stage for the alt-universe delight to come. The “bang” we’re referring to is a big ol’ “DISCLAIMER” title card that clarifies upfront to all the doubters out there that this is indeed a “completely unauthorized” parody of the Batman mythology, particularly of his ensemble of villains. So, no, Warner Bros. had nothing to do with Drew’s new feature, which happens to be shot entirely on a green screen. That isn’t exactly a spoiler, as you’ll pick up on this purposefully eerie visual component right from the get-go.

Drew’s character’s original name — before she becomes Joker the Harlequin, of course — is also *bleeped* all the way through, another nifty storytelling device that is perhaps open to interpretation. It’s censored even when we see her as a young boy with an emotionally abusive mom and an utterly absent father. According to Altered Innocence, The People’s Joker as a finished product reportedly features the work of over 200 independent, predominantly queer artists to elevate Drew’s journey from the young lad to a beloved antihero in the vein of a gloriously messy, mixed-media visual experience. Stop-motion, old-school animation, 3-D, you name it. If you’re a bit nauseous by the end, I don’t think Drew necessarily cares. If you can’t handle the heat, stay out the — well, you know how it goes.


Meanwhile, it’s important to note that you don’t have to be living in a superhero universe, or even a fan of said types of universes, in order to relate to Drew’s odyssey here, as she grows up with comic aspirations of joining the highly coveted UCB (a real-life callout, which I’m sure the organization didn’t exactly approve of). The kicker? To impress the big boss, Lorne Michaels, she has to travel all the way to Chicago — er, actually, Gotham City, in this case. That means Drew meets a wonderfully colorful cast of characters along the way, including The Penguin (played by the deadpan-hilarious Nathan Faustyn).

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Wickedly Sharp and Absurd Humor

Vera Drew onstage in The People's Joker (2023)
Altered Innocence

Ideas like UCB and Lorne Michaels are name-dropped and explicitly parodied, while some other public figures are more subtly poked fun at. In the sort of gonzo broadcast TV that Drew often peruses throughout the film, we sometimes see an angry right-wing commentator whose speech rhythms can’t help but remind us of a certain controversial figure known as Alex Jones.

But back to the journey of Drew, who also crosses paths with the Riddler (Trevor Drinkwater) and then, of course, a sort of male counterpart to her Harley Quinn-type spin on the Joker: Meet Mr. J (Kane Distler), whom Drew becomes infatuated with — to extremely unhealthy levels. Here’s one example: Watch out for a literal gaslighting moment that effectively feeds into the film’s overall unabashedly absurdist feel, which might end up scaring off all those mainstream moviegoers out there. Oh well.


It’s laugh-out-loud, tragically funny stuff seeing Mr. J literally putting Joker the Harlequin under his spell with his magical “gaslight” once the titular People’s Joker is ready to up and leave his emotionally abusive self. On that note, why call a movie like this The People’s Joker? Well, this is a world where comedy is quite literally outlawed, a clever literal parallel to the seemingly oppressive times we live in, particularly in connection to the ever-expanding LGBTQ+ demographic. Certain strides are being made in some capacities, but there is always room for improvement, to put it mildly. Joker the Harlequin teams up with The Penguin to dub their new commercial brand of humor “anti-comedy” so that they don’t get arrested. It’s relentlessly clever storytelling that never lets up in the film’s tight 90-minute duration.


Related

How Frank Sinatra Missed His Chance to Play The Joker in Batman ‘66

Closer examination of the character and his history on screen illustrates how The Joker gig became the most coveted piece of Oscar bait.

There are a handful of fun, blink-and-you-might-miss-it cameos from some household comedic names from decades past, so no spoilers here. But there’s a standout turn from real-life outsider artist David Liebe Hart, who plays a sort of iconic clown-faced comedian at UCB who serves as Joker the Harlequin’s mentor. When he tries to guide her towards her dreams in a bonkers third act, that’s perhaps when the film goes a bit too off the rails, and you might find yourself checking the time. But then, the magic returns and Vera Drew proves herself to be a star in the making, and not just among her LGBTQ community.

From Altered Innocence, The People’s Joker will be playing in select theaters Friday.


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