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‘The People’s Joker’ never lets up for a second

Vera Drew in The People's Joker
Tallgrass Film Festival
Vera Drew in The People's Joker

Please give me a moment to catch my breath.

Wait, just one more second.

OK. The People's Joker is a manic assault, with so many cuts and effects and non-sequiturs and jokes that your head starts spinning the moment the movie starts and keeps on spinning for a while after it's over. It's also, given all that, surprisingly focused in its story, which is, at its core, about the film's director, writer, and star, Vera Drew, coming to terms with her trans identity.

It would be ridiculous to try to explain what happens in any real way, so we'll just say Vera Drew's "character" lives in a Gotham City where comedy is outlawed, sort of, and Batman is kind of a jerk, and there's an underground network of Batman villains who want to start an alt-comedy scene. Kind of. Drew rises to the top of this underground world while also sorting out the fact that she is not the boy everyone thought she was growing up, and she gets involved in a toxic relationship with a trans man while also struggling with her mother not recognizing her identity. About four billion other things happen, too.

Drew mixes media like I mix metaphors, giving us intentionally bad computer animation, intentionally bad hand-drawn animation, good hand-drawn animation, some really good hand-drawn animation, and tons of green screen while also exploring her identity, the comedy world, and the many, many effects of pop culture on our individual and collective psyches.

But, in its way, it’s kind of brilliant, and the sheer volume of references to cultural touchstones is something you can only applaud, along with Drew's willingness to be so open about her own experiences. She's quite aware of what she's doing in presenting this story in this frenetic, fractured way, and to be able to get it down on paper, much less onto a screen for all of us to see, is a pretty impressive feat.

The People’s Joker plays May 3rd – 5th at the Tallgrass Film Center.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.