Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramírez, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, and Diane Ladd
You know that self-wringing mop you have or have always wanted to use? It’s called the “Miracle Mop” and entrepreneur Joy Mangano invented it. Ms. Mangano, a college graduate with a degree in business administration, was a divorced mother of three working a variety of different jobs and selling her cleaning invention out of her father’s body shop. After a few years of selling in her local community Ms. Mangano’s luck changed after she pitched her invention to television shopping network QVC. Director David O. Russell, “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook”, takes on this rags-to-riches story with the help of a fantastic performance from Jennifer Lawrence. While “Joy” may not always display the quality its title describes and becomes rather formulaic very quickly, Mr. Russell puts enough trust in his assemble cast to bring a rather lackluster script to life.
Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a struggling divorced mother, raising her children, taking care of her purposefully bedridden mother (Virginia Madsen), and offering a basement for her ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) to live in while he works nights as lounge singer. Room becomes sparse when her father (Robert De Niro) is thrown out by his girlfriend and moves into the basement as well. Joy, pushed over and taken advantage of, unexpectedly finds inspiration to create an invention that could change her, and her families, entire life.
Underdog stories are a familiar narrative trope in films; everyone likes to see admirable characters rise up against the odds, dust themselves off, and charge for the finish line. “Joy” is exactly this though far more mean-spirited and hopeless. Joy is introduced in the film at a bad place in her life, basically losing her job and caring for a family that would rather step over her than help her. The only person rooting and encouraging her success is her grandmother Mimi, a welcome Diane Ladd who fits nicely into the role. Mimi is also the narrator for much of the film, providing insights during flashbacks into how the family has become so dysfunctional but also how Joy has survived her downtrodden journey so far. It’s a grim outlook even when success peeks into Joy’s life.
David O. Russell is very good at writing characters, especially the interactions that happen with other characters. Again, as Mr. Russell has proven with his past films, he succeeds in keeping these characters interesting. What doesn’t work very well is the design of the story; it’s the same overdone and familiar structure of every other rags-to-riches tale, but that isn’t necessarily the worst part. Mr. Russell never embeds any authenticity into Joy’s tragedies in her personal or professional life. Bad things happen and are quickly pushed aside, while this should in some way display the resiliency of Joy’s character it instead feels like a side note, an easy progression towards the looming success that is always within her grasp.
Still, Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic in the lead, her performance displays the highs and lows experienced in the character’s life. Ms. Lawrence has grown significantly as an actor, and it shows in her performance here. Robert De Niro seems at his best with Mr. Russell in the director’s chair, here Mr. De Niro is utilized nicely as a brash father who hasn’t always been the best example for his children. Take for instance a scene where Mr. De Niro gives a scathing and unfeeling speech to his daughter Joy just after she has experienced terrible failure. Bradley Cooper has a smaller role here, playing a QVC executive, but continues to show great chemistry with Ms. Lawrence.
“Joy” is about the dysfunction that exists in our world, whether with family, love, relationships, or, specifically to this film, commerce; it’s dysfunction that many must somehow function through. While “Joy” may stumble on getting this point across clearly, David O. Russell is a capable enough to allow his excellent cast opportunity to make something happen.
3.50 out of 5.00