Months before even a trailer, everyone (involved and observers) was comparing Joker to Scorsese classics, Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. A movie should stand on its own terms no matter how indebted to homage but Joker tries to fashion itself as an entry into the “troubled man on the fringes of society” canon so it’s impossible not to view the film’s success contingent on if it can measure up to the standard set by its predecessors.
What’s unique about King of Comedy and Taxi Driver is their structure: psychological character studies that show their subjects just existing, in almost banal fashion until their resentment to the world at large, builds and builds to an explosion of violence. I call this genre “Gas Leak Drama” because that’s what it feels like… a palpable dread that begins unnoticed but keep getting worse and worse until there’s no escape. The genre isn’t only owned by Marty, 2017 had two great films existing in these parameters: Taxi Driver’s screenwriter, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, which changes setting from urban decay to a historic church and Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here (also starring Joaquin Phoenix as a troubled man who lives with his mother). Joker really wants to be in this club, it almost got Scorsese on board as a producer and casting DeNiro in a meta talk show role, calling back to his King of Comedy character, Rupert Pupkin.