Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’ made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday night and was given an eight-minute standing ovation, peppered with shouts of “Bravo!” The film had screened earlier that morning for the press and stars Joaquin Phoenix and Zazie Beetz were given a similar enthusiastic greeting when they appeared at the post-screening press conference.
It has been buzzed for a couple of months now that ‘Joker’ could be an awards-season contender with Phoenix singled out as a likely Best Actor nominee.
‘Joker’ is an oddity. It is loosely based on one of the most famous comic book characters ever, but it doesn’t actually adapt the comics. Rather it is essentially an original story that borrows elements from the source. It is also a psychological crime drama, not a typical superhero action movie. The fanboy (and girl) audience isn’t necessarily being courted with this one. Rather, it’s being presented as a gritty, serious prestige film.
That was what drew Phoenix– who has continuously taken jabs at other comic book movies– to the project. At the press conference following the press screening, Phoenix said:
“We were going to approach it in our own way. I didn’t refer to any past iterations of the character. It just felt like it was our creation.”
Unlike the comic book character, this Joker has a real name, Arthur Fleck. Fleck is a struggling standup comedian who acts as a clown to pay the bills. “Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events.”
“[Arthur is] a guy who is searching for identity who mistakenly becomes a symbol. His goal genuinely is to make people laugh and bring joy to the world. [We had] a lot of freedom because Joker never really had an origin story in the comics. We thought it was really liberating because there really were no rules or boundaries, Scott [Silver, screenwriter] and I just pushed each other every day to come up with something totally insane.”
It remains to be seen how this will play out in theaters. It is rated-R, and won’t court the masses that flock to the usual comic book film hits. But it is possible that it could attract older, more high-brow filmgoers, who might actually not be interested in the usual popcorn flicks.
We’ll find out how the public reacts when ‘Joker’ opens on October 4.