Put on a Happy Face—The Joker Trailer Delivers

You are about to understand why audiences at CinemaCon were so blown away by the first trailer for Joker. Todd Phillips‘ origin story about one of the most iconic villains of all time looks as gritty as promised, with Joaquin Phoenix inhabiting the title role with his trademark intensity and craft.

“Arthur, does it help to have someone to talk to you?”

We open with Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) in therapy. His hair his long. His face is unpainted. He seems defeated, slightly sad. But after his therapist poses this question, an odd smile appears on his face. This flash of pained joy is a precursor to what’s to come; the demented smile of a man who has gone insane.

“My mother always tells me to smile and put on a happy face. She told me I had a purpose,” Fleck says early in the trailer. “To bring laughter and joy to the world.” We then see him in full clown regalia, only this isn’t the get up of a mastermind criminal and sociopath. Not yet, anyway. This is the sad uniform of a man twirling a sign outside of a store, telling would-be customers that “Everything Must Go!” Then a group of kids steal the sign and end up bashing his face with it. What’s gonna go is poor Fleck’s sanity. “It is just me, or is everything getting crazier out there?” Fleck asks. It turns out it’s both.

This first look at Phillips’ Joker is mesmerizing. We’re not in the sleek, jaw-dropping Gotham of Christopher Nolan. We’re not in the mad carnival Gotham of  Tim Burton. This is Gotham by way of New York City in the 1970s. There’s trash on the streets, criminals in the shadows, and everyone seems to be spoiling for a fight. This is a Gotham inspired by Phoenix’s realistic take on a man with mental illness and inspired by the films of Joker producer Martin Scorsese. Think Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. As co-star Marc Maron said, this Joker is more a character study of a man with mental illness than a comic book romp.

Even the Joker’s signature laugh is brought down to earth here. We see Fleck at a comedy show, laughing when everyone else is silent. It sounds more like an audition for the Joker from a guy who doesn’t get the part. It’s fantastic.

The trailer shows us Fleck’s transformation from a nobody into a very crazy somebody. Yes, it’s only a trailer, but Phoenix is delivering the most riveting take on this character since Heath Ledger’s iconic performance in The Dark Knight. 

The trailer focuses squarely on Fleck. We only get brief glimpses at other characters, including Zazie Beetz’s single mom Sophie Dumon, Frances Conroy’s Penny Fleck (Arthur’s mom), and Robert De Niro’s comedian Manny Franklin.

“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize…it’s a comedy,” Fleck says towards the end of the trailer. Now that‘s one hell of a logline for the film.

Joker laughs into theaters on October 4. Check out the trailer below.

Featured image: ‘Joker’ theatrical poster. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures


Bryan Abrams

Bryan Abrams is the Editor-in-chief of The Credits. He's run the site since its launch in 2012. He lives in New York.