Why Joaquin Phoenix’s Next Movie Can Be Even Better Than Joker


Joaquin Phoenix’s tour de force performance as Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime made Joker an instant classic, but his next movie, Disappointment Blvd., can be even better. Throughout his career, Phoenix has been tapped to play characters with mental illness. From Freddie Quell in The Master to a fictionalized version of himself in I’m Still Here, his vulnerability, quiet intensity, and personal struggles — he has opened up about his own crippling anxiety — have allowed him to play these roles with surprising authenticity and appropriate sensitivity. Joker put him to a more difficult test: playing a neurodivergent person in a comic book movie.

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Phoenix didn’t just pass that test; he turned in one of the most critically acclaimed performances of the decade, proving comic book movies can be so much more in the process. His Joker, real name Arthur Fleck, is both sympathetic and loathsome. He is by turns joyful and brooding, gentle and sadistic, often within the same scene, and Phoenix negotiates this dance with grace. Still, the portrayal hasn’t been without its share of criticism. In the film, Arthur becomes violent when he goes off his medicine. This seems to perpetuate the stereotype that violence and mental illness are correlated when in reality the inverse is true. Phoenix does his best with the material, and indeed, most of Joker‘s criticism was focused on the movie, not on his acting. For many critics, Joker’s similarities to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy are too obvious. Other charges against the movie have included clichéd dialogue, on-the-nose symbolism, and a predictable story. In the end, if Joker is remembered for anything, it will be mostly for Phoenix’s complex, soulful performance. His next movie, though, could be the vehicle the great actor deserves.


Related: Why Joker’s Critic Reviews Are So Divided

Like Joker, the forthcoming horror-comedy Disappointment Blvd. should give Joaquin Phoenix a chance to shine, only this time without outshining the movie. Coming from A24 in 2023, Disappointment Blvd. is the third feature from writer-director Ari Aster, who is a godhead in today’s horror renaissance. His Hereditary and Midsommar are both considered modern classics of the genre. Aster also has a strong preoccupation with mental illness, a theme that runs deep in both movies. While few details have emerged about the plot of Disappointment Blvd., its central story, about the downward spiral of a successful entrepreneur, hints that mental illness could once again be a major theme. If so, the film will find both its director and its star on a firm footing.


How Ari Aster Centers Mental Illness Without Exploiting It

Todd Phillips’s treatment of mental illness in Joker came as no surprise given the Old School, Road Trip, and The Hangover director could not be expected to handle such serious subject matter with care. Ari Aster, on the other hand, brings a lighter touch. Where Joker uses Arthur Fleck’s mental illness as motivation for the horror he inflicts, Aster’s films explore how mental illness can inflict horror directly. In Hereditary, it’s the horror of no longer recognizing one’s own loved ones, even one’s own self, inflicted by dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia. In Midsommar, which centers on anxiety and panic disorder, it’s the dread of being alone with oneself, with one’s fears, in the universe. For Aster’s characters, the conflicts are largely internal. That makes the quietly intense Phoenix, who does much of his acting on the inside, a natural choice to star in one of Aster’s films.


Whether mental illness will indeed figure in Disappointment Blvd., and if so, how much, is still unclear, but Joaquin Phoenix is no one-trick pony. He has the range to handle whatever Ari Aster throws at him. One need look no further than M. Night Shyamalan’s silly but scary Signs and The Village for proof he can do horror-comedy. What is clear is that, in pairing one of today’s best directors with one of today’s best actors, Disappointment Blvd. should be anything but a disappointment when it’s released in 2023.



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