fbpx

Tag: Todd Phillips

Editorials

Road Trip to Joker: The Success of Todd Phillips

March 5, 2020
Todd Phillips Films

Love him or hate him, director Todd Phillips has certainly made a very successful niche for himself. Today I’ll be looking over the controversial director’s career. Beginning with an overview of his work before looking into his most acclaimed films, The Hangover and Joker and how they succeeded at the box office, with critics, and for the director himself.

Filmography

Phillips broke into narrative features with 2000’s Road Trip. A sex comedy that made over $119 million dollars at the box office against a $16 million budget. He followed that up with other successes like 2003s gross-out comedy Old School. 2004s movie adaptation of Starsky & Hutch. 2010s buddy road trip film Due Date. 2016s biographical black comedy War Dogs. And The Hangover sequels, which while never earning the acclaim of the original, were still financially successful.

Comparatively, Phillips’ only unsuccessful movie is School of Scoundrels which earned $24 million against a $35 million budget. However inarguably his most successful ventures are The Hangover and Joker.

The leads of The Hangover (2009)
The leads of The Hangover (2009) [Source: Standard.co.uk]

Success and Acclaim: The Hangover & Joker

The Hangover became the highest-grossing R rated comedy of all time during its release (not adjusted for inflation). While this record was later surpassed The Hangover was also celebrated by audiences and critics (Rated 7.7 on IMDb and 78% on Rotten Tomatoes).

Meanwhile, Joker has become the highest-grossing R rated movie of all time, making over $1 billion worldwide. Despite mixed critical reception (68% on Rotten Tomatoes) Joker still received great acclaim. Winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and being nominated for many Best Film and Best Director awards. Audiences also roundly embraced the film (it’s currently rated 8.6 on IMDb and is ranked 46th in the IMDb Top 250).

Both films are examples of popular film trends from their time. The Hangover owes some of its success to the popular raunchy comedies of Judd Apatow. And Joker owes a lot to the domination of comic book movies at the box office.

But both films also have something unique, ambiguity. While The Hangover was a raunchy comedy it also had a grimy presentation. This allowed people to view the film as a condemnation of the activities the characters get involved with. Thus even people unsympathetic to the characters could enjoy laughing at them. Meanwhile, Joker presented its villain as somewhat sympathetic by showcasing how many facets of American culture helped to turn him evil but also presented his actions as shocking. Meaning the film functioned as both a disturbing look inside a killer’s mind but also an exploration of the factors that turned him into one. This ambiguous presentation allows for audiences to engage with these films in different ways. And gives critics a lot to analyze. Which is likely something else that lead to their success.

Frightening killer or victim of society? Joker (2019)
Frightening killer or victim of society? Joker (2019) [Source: Variety]

Todd Phillips’ Risks

Surprisingly Warner Brothers were initially unsupportive of both films. They didn’t want to give The Hangover a $35 million budget, because of its R rating (often not as successful as PG-13 movies) and because the leads were relatively unknown at the time. And even though Joker was a sure-fire hit due to the main characters’ comic popularity, Warner Brothers still attempted to prevent the project being made by giving Phillips a relatively small budget of $55 million.

But this ended up paying off well for Phillips. Because of Warner’s reluctance to finance The Hangover Phillips gave up his directing salary to help make the film and asked for 16% of the films gross. Meaning his pay went from $6.5 million to $75 million. And Phillips took a smaller salary on Joker, again asking for a percentage of the gross. Many publications estimate he will make $100 million from it.

Controversial director Todd Phillip
Controversial director Todd Phillips [Source: NME.com]

Conclusion

In the end, Todd Phillips knows how to get moviegoers talking and how to make a success of it. By using successful formulas his films have struck a note with audiences. And the well-constructed morally ambiguous presentation of Hangover and Joker managed to appeal to many different audiences and critics alike. And thanks to their success and the risks Phillips took to make his two best films he’s now laughing all the way to the bank. What a Joker.   

Also Read: The Unique Style of Wes Anderson

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Reviews

Review: Joker

October 4, 2019

Whether you know him as Clown Prince of Crime or the Harlequin of Hate, you know who we’re talking about. The Joker! That green hair, the pale face and the bright red lips are back because of director Todd Phillips (Due Date, The Hangover). However, the Jester of Genocide was never this human, terrifying and compelling as he’s in Joker. The man you have to thank for that: the dazzling Joaquin Phoenix.

From party clown to murderer

Welcome to Gotham City in the ’70s. It’s a time during which a massive economic and political crisis is threating the city, that’s crumbling down completely. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is one of the people who have to endure those uncertain times. He’s having mental health problems, a cigarette addiction and when his social worker won’t give him medication, life becomes even worse. His job as a clown and his ambition to become a stand-up comedian bring a little bit more laughter to his life. Most of the time way too much laughter as Fleck has to deal with his uncontrollable laughter decease. Despite his troubled and dark life, he’s trying to give his mother (Frances Conroy), with who he lives together, the best life possible. He’s cooking her food and watching her favourite show “The Murray Franklin show” together.

His life gets even darker when he is fired from his job and when his comedy act isn’t working. When people are making more and more fun of his incurable decease, something in Fleck’s mind snaps. Ready to take revenge on those who mock him and those who neglected him when he and his mother needed them the most (such as Thomas Wayne). What happens when his anger, frustration, and vengeful feelings are being enhanced by the troubled society? Well, then Fleck becomes the Joker!

Give the man an Oscar

You probably have seen joker in multiple shapes (Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger,…) and many different films (Batman, The Dark Knight,…) but no one or no film comes as close as the real thing as this one by Phillips.

The main reason is without a doubt the stunning performance from Phoenix (Walk the Line, You Were Never Really Here). Having to portray a broken, confused, desperate but also vindictive, violent and determined man must have been extremely hard to do. Phoenix pulls it off extraordinarily. He’s shy, reserved and insecure as the comedian but strong, violent and reckless as the Joker. We can still hear his hard and cruel laugh. By the end of the film, he made us feel confused, uncomfortable and astonished, all in a good way though. We certainly need to applaud Phoenix’s stunning psychical transformation.

While Phoenix does rise above everyone else, this is not a one-man show. As the entertaining, suave and typical talk show host, we see captivating and intriguing Robert De Niro (The Irishman, Silver Linings Playbook). It might not be his best work but the last scene with Phoenix makes up for that big time. That talk and everything around it shows the best of the best of both actors and will leave you breathless way after the film ended.

The motherly emotions are being brought to life by the great and captivating Conroy (American Horror Story (TV series), Mountain Rest) as the sad, confused and naïve Penny. More wonderful supporting performances come from Brett Cullen (Ghost Rider, The Dark Knight Rises) as the egocentric, powerful and forceful politician Thomas Wayne and from the fine and delighted Zazie Beetz (Lucy in the Sky, Deadpool) as Fleck’s neighbour who’s a little spark of light in his life.

More than just a comic

While watching Joker, you might even forget that this movie is based on the DC Comic characters. Phillips made such an immensely mature movie. Instead of focussing on the superhero side, Joker becomes a psychological study of a damaged and mentally ill man. Phillips wasn’t only able to create this via the brilliant acting performances but also via the impressive cinematography from Lawrence Sher (The Hangover, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) and the bombastic music from Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl (TV series), Sicario: Day of the Soldado).

Phillips and Sher already worked together during The Hangover films and their partnership is again spot on. While Phillips brings the Joker story to life by work, Sher does it with dark, enigmatic and mysterious images. Images of which you ask whether they’re happening or whether they’re just Fleck’s imagination. That very last scene is really the highlight of their corporation. If you add the grandiose, over-the-top and disturbing musical score from Guðnadóttir to it, you feel the gloomy, dark and disturbing vibe coming out of the (IMAX) screen instantly.

Who’s laughing now?

Well, pretty sure it’s director Phillips. Since the world premiere during the Toronto Film Festival, both critics and audiences fell in love with Joker. Not so hard to guess why. This brilliantly made, perfectly performed and spot-on dark character study will blow you away big time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Joker (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Joke’s On You: The History of Batman’s Arch-Nemesis

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.