For the entire time that it's been in development, folks have been slyly comparing Todd Phillips' Joker to Martin Scorsese's King of Comedy, at least partially because Tha One Gawd Marty was a producer on the project when it was initially incepted (the GOAT has since departed, though his partner Emma Tillinger Koskoff remains). Yet as details - both rumored and confirmed - about Phillips and Scott Silver (8 Mile, The Fighter)'s script continue to trickle out, it seems more and more likely that we're going to be receiving the Rupert Pupkin of Joker pictures.
We know that Joker is a mid-range movie from Warner Bros. (budgeted at $55 million), is set during the early '80s, has been described as "dark" and "gritty" (which is a pretty familiar mode for anything DC), and may feature Zazie Beetz as a single mother whom Joaquin Phoenix's Clown Prince of Crime becomes obsessed with. There have been whisperings that his Joker (possibly named Arthur Fleck) could be returning home to Gotham to live with his sick/dying mother, and experiencing a sort of mental breakdown that finally leads to him snapping and donning the infamous facepaint. Phillips has gone on record in the past, describing the movie as:
"...an exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale."
I mean, that's basically the essence of both Scorsese's Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, with the latter layering commentary regarding the pervasive desire for fame on top of its narrative. All you essentially have to do to make it work for Joker is apply the heightened nature of comic book storytelling onto a tried and true template regarding the psychosis of society's disenfranchised.
Now, none other than Travis Bickle/Rupert Pupkin himself has entered talks for Phillips/Silver/Phoenix's Joker: Robert De Niro. Accoring to THR, De Niro may be signing to play "a talk show host who is somehow instrumental in the Joker’s origin." Could De Niro's character (who may or may not be named Murray Franklin) be Joker's version of Jerry Langford (who was brilliantly played by Jerry Lewis in KoC)?
For those who may not be aware of King of Comedy (or have hazy memories of the movie), it follows an obsessed fan named Rupert Pupkin (De Niro), who quickly spirals into madness before kidnapping a rather antagonistic late night personality named Jerry Langford. How cool would it be to see De Niro doing his best Jerry Lewis, willfully driving Joaquin Phoenix to the brink of violence?
Look, I'm not gonna lie, I've been super hard on this project since its announcement, and some of you have given me shit for nastily ripping on Phillips. I gotta admit when I'm wrong, and his Joker suddenly has my full attention. Granted, it's been a minute since De Niro gave a genuinely great performance, but the idea of him and Phoenix going up against each other in a Gotham City nightmare has my curiosity piqued.
Here's hoping Phillips & Co. don't let me down when Joker hits theaters October 4th, 2019.