It's important not to get too invested in movie casting rumours. Some people built Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness up to impossible heights in the run up to its release, so much that even several dozen cameos weren't enough to satiate some fans. I'm still not quite over Harry Styles ditching Nosferatu at the last minute to run around as a superhero, leaving Robert Eggers, Anya Taylor-Joy, and of course myself, in vampire remake purgatory. Timothee Chalamet has allegedly joined the project since, but baby, call me Roger Daltrey because I won't get fooled again. I'm trying not to react to the buzz that Saoirse Ronan will team up with Greta Gerwig yet again to play an 'alternative Barbie' opposite Margot Robbie next year. But there is one rumour I cannot help but let get to my head – Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn across from Joaquin Phoenix.
When discussing the Folie a Deux title of the sequel last week, I suggested that Harley (at that stage considered an outsider to be in the movie), was a much more natural pick for whoever Arthur Fleck might share his madness with than anybody else. The established timeline seemed to rule out Batman, another villain like Riddler or Two-Face seemed too Joker Cinematic Universe for Phoenix, and the title seemed too literal for a metaphorical representation of the audience, or of the divide between Fleck and Joker in one body. Harley, more popular now than she has ever been and still significantly less saturated than many other A-list superheroes, always seemed at the front of the queue.
These rumours don't technically confirm anything – no official word has been offered from anybody close to the project – but they make for convincing reading. It's just a nameless 'source' from Warner Bros., but The Hollywood Reporter is more credible than to dive on a quote from the downstairs office's janitor's friend's cat sitter, and there is substantial detail in the reports. They still may be false – and even if true, could fall through – but Gaga as Harley is impossibly tempting and I can't let it go.
Lady Gaga is full of commitment for every role she has. While her relentless campaigning for an Oscar nomination for House of Gucci drew mockery, it was also a symptom of how much she loved immersing herself in that role. That's the same reason Phoenix's turn as Joker (which did win him an Oscar) was so powerful. Whenever Phoenix takes a role, he dives in with both feet. That's true of Gaga too – you get the sense that Folie a Deux is an extremely fitting title with those two as your leading lights. Joker works because it never thinks of itself as a comic book movie, as satire, as trivial. It thinks of itself as a character study, with real people feeling real things. If Margot Robbie is the perfect star to bring Harley's cartoonish, comic book eccentricities to live-action in the DCEU, Gaga is the perfect star to fill her with grit and life.
Then there's the fact the sequel is rumoured to be a musical. If that holds water, it will likely continue as a musical even if the Gaga deal falls through. A Joker musical sounds perfect – the first movie was misunderstood by all the wrong people who saw Joker as a hero specifically for angry young white men, who saw it not as a cautionary tale but as a righteous promise. Taking a movie defined by its worst fans for its masculinity and transforming it into a musical is the most delicious satire. I'd suggested the title might be a re-examining of Joker's relationship with its audience, but this is even better than that.
Things could still be very early days, and might not even have been true to begin with, but it still feels good to hope. They say it's the hope that kills you, but if I could choose a way to die, it would be with my face being pulverised by Lady Gaga's mallet.
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