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A Streaming Guide for Lady Gaga's Possible Harley Quinn Inspirations

Lady Gaga announced on Instagram April 5th that her time inhabiting Harley Quinn for Joker: Folie à Deux had come to a close—but there’s still a long, long wait before any of the public sees Todd Phillips’s hotly anticipated sequel. That means there’s still a lot of time to prepare for its release. From the set photos alone, we’re guessing there’s going to be a lot to take in; that’s probably for the best.

The original Joker has been divisive since its release in 2019. It (quite unexpectedly) won the Gold Lion at the Venice International Film Festival and snagged a Best Actor Oscar for star Joaquin Phoenix, but the film’s dark take on the classic criminal clown and its generally misanthropic worldview turned off some audiences. It’s therefore all the more surprising that Gaga not only joined the film in the first place, but according to the scant information out there, it’s said to be, of all things, a musical.

Phillips’s vision for the original was clearly a nod to the work of Martin Scorsese (he even cast longtime Marty collaborator Robert De Niro in a key role), which means Folie à Deux is likely to have its fair share of references, cinematic illusions, and obvious influences. We also know damn well that Gaga herself is “unafraid to reference or not reference.” Here, a guide to what to watch to get ready for the film and (try to) surmise what its vibe may be. Besides, we all know Little Monsters love to do some homework in service of their queen.

Joker (2019)

Streaming on HBO Max.

Well, duh. While the film did gross over a billion dollars worldwide, we’re willing to bet that the venn diagram of people who saw it and the people who bought tickets to The Chromatica Ball is not a complete circle. So here’s the link.

New York, New York (1977)

While we don’t know much about Folie à Deux , the most enduring (if not confirmed) rumor is that the film’s soundtrack may take heavy inspiration from classic Liza Minnelli-starring musicals. That would explain why Gaga signed on to the role in the first place (she’s a major fan and recent friend of the multitalented legend). And while some Minnelli fans might blanche at the idea, if there were a Harley Quinn movie made in the 1970s, she might have been the perfect actress for it.

So Minnelli’s 1977 collaboration with Scorsese may be one of the major keys to understanding the vision for Folie à Deux—especially since it’s an unhappy love story.

It’s Scorsese’s only musical, though initial reviews were brutal, something the director didn’t take well at the time. Still, it’s left something of a long cultural tail. Its title song is now a standard (watching this video of Minnelli performing it in the middle of a football stadium is an absolute delight), and a Broadway adaptation with new lyrics from Lin-Manuel Miranda is currently in previews. Unfortunately, not only is it not streaming anywhere, but you can’t rent it on VoD. Still, the industrious might be able to find it at their local library or through other means. The Minnelli-heavy soundtrack is also on Spotify and other services.

Cabaret (1972)

Streaming on HBO Max.

Another Minnelli vehicle rumored to be on the mood board, this one has a better critical legacy (it won Liza the Oscar, after all) and is available for streaming. Minelli stars as Sally Bowles, a naive if not delusional flapper from a comfortable background (American in the movie, British in most other versions of the story) who absconds to Weimar-era Berlin with dreams of becoming a serious entertainer. She gives herself to men in order to chase a dream she’s probably never going to achieve. That’s not quite the m.o. of the Harley Quinn canon, but it’s also something you could see grafted onto her character—especially since the relationship between Harley and the Joker has been depicted as a lot of things, but “healthy” isn’t one of them.

That’s Entertainment (1974)

Streaming on Apple TV+.

Another musical that’s been name-checked in the rumor mill, this film also features Minnelli, but it’s not actually a vehicle for her talents. Instead, she’s the cohost of what is essentially a feature-length clip show of some of the best moments from MGM’s stories musical history (Scorsese’s New York, New York was also his homage to the studio’s musicals). Consider it the “Now! That’s What I Call Music” of musicals. Admittedly, it’s a bit odd this movie is being mentioned specifically. That’s kind of like saying Joker 2 is inspired by almost every classic musical ever, but this does serve as a nifty cheat sheet if that’s one of your cultural blindspots.

The King of Comedy (1982)

Streaming on YouTube (for free …legally!).

Another Scorsese film that bombed at the time, but unlike New York, New York, its reputation has recovered in recent years. Phillips already acknowledged the film’s influence on the first Joker, but it’s certainly worth watching for clues to the sequel.

De Niro plays a wannabe stand-up comedian struggling with both his career and mental health who goes mad, and eventually links up with (and this may be key to understanding Gaga’s role) a disturbed woman to carry off a kidnapping. Sandra Bernhard plays that female lead, and like Minelli she’s another actress who might have made a perfect on-screen Harley in another timeline. If Phoenix’s Joker took inspiration from De Niro’s Rupert, it would stand to reason that Gaga’s Harley could have shades of Bernhard’s Masha. Seriously, watch the clip above. You can already see it, can’t you? “Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be fabulous?!”

Batman: The Animated Series (1992-95)

Streaming on HBO Max.

Unlike most household-name comic book characters, Harley is a relatively new addition to the canon. She premiered in the early ’90s on Batman: The Animated Series, the film noir-inspired classic series from Millennials’s Saturday morning cartoon days. Meaning for a lot of people, there’s still an unquestionably definitive portrayal of the character. In fact, it was voice actress Arleen Sorkin’s performance that elevated what was supposed to be a one-off background character to one of D.C.’s most popular names. In other words, if you thought it was a big day on the Internet when Gaga’s Harley costume debuted, that’ll be nothing compared to the timeline discourse when we first get to hear her take on the character’s famous voice.

Here’s one Harley-centric episode to get you started. Though the episode “Mad Love,” which tells the character’s dark origin story, from the late ’90s follow-up series Batman: The New Adventures is generally lauded as a classic as well. Yeah, you’re reading comic book cartoon series recommendations on W magazine. The power Gaga has.

Suicide Squad (2016) and Harley Quinn (2019)

Both Streaming on HBO Max.

Of course, Gaga won’t be the first actress to put her own spin on the character, and it’s worth scoping out the other versions beforehand. Margot Robbie won praise and cemented her star status for her work on the Suicide Squad, and Kaley Cuoco voices a version on the character’s very own (and critically adored) adult-oriented animated series. For the completists out there, Jenny Slate voiced the character in The LEGO Batman Movie, Christina Ricci voiced her in the Spotify podcast series Harley Quinn and The Joker: Sound Mind, and Gillian Jacobs has voiced her in a few audio dramas and animated projects. Many of these are also streaming on, you guessed, it HBO Max.

Lady Gaga’s Saturday Night Live Episode (2013)

Streaming on Peacock

Gaga’s hosting stint on SNL back in 2013 still provides some insight into the full range of her acting ability. The sketch where she plays a frazzled, forgotten, and elderly version of herself (with a very affected, almost Harley-like voice) could serve as a bit of a preview. Notably, she also sung Minnelli’s “New York, New York” during her monologue. She also sung a full version of that song on a Frank Sinatra tribute show back in 2015.

Source: W Magazine

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