UK Release Date: 1st January 2016
Runtime: 124 minutes
Director: David O Russell
Writer: David O Russell, Annie Mumolo
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Edgar Ramirez
Synopsis: A single mother with a dysfunctional family decides to enter business when she invents a unique mop.
Over the course of the last few years, David O Russell has established an impressive body of work, anchored by a recurring cast of performers. At the centre of them all is Jennifer Lawrence, who has already become beloved in Hollywood. Joy has sold itself almost entirely around the unmatchable charisma of its central performer. As a result, it has gone somewhat unnoticed in marketing materials that the film is utterly barmy in just about every way.
Joy Mangano (Lawrence) is a single mother, struggling to hold together her family. Her father Rudy (Robert De Niro) cannot hold down a relationship, her mother Terri (Virginia Madsen) is permanently in front of the television and her ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) still lives in the basement. One day, she comes up with an idea for a self-wringing mop and asks Rudy’s new partner Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) to provide some money to get the business going. Her business eventually has her cross paths with QVC exec Neil (Bradley Cooper).
It’s clear from almost the first moment of Joy that David O Russell had absolutely no idea how to pitch this movie. A straight biopic of a cleaning entrepreneur would not have impressed in the awards season scrum, so some sort of risk had to be taken. The result is a bizarre mess of tones that never coalesce. There are huge swathes of pedestrian family drama, alongside an offbeat discussion of the American Dream, with an occasional dash of Lynchian surrealism in the mix as well. O Russell is at his best when he focuses on character, such as in The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook.
| “Don’t ever think that the world owes you anything, because it doesn’t. The world doesn’t owe you a thing.”
Here, O Russell becomes bogged down in trying to produce something innovative. Joy does, however, have one enormous thing going for it. Jennifer Lawrence is a consistently captivating and believable presence in the lead role. Even as the material varies wildly in its tone and quality, Lawrence is a constant anchor point for the action. She has an intangible coolness that radiates from the character, harnessing the everywoman appeal that has powered her career.
The rest of the cast get very little to do, given the dominance of Lawrence’s performance. De Niro does nothing other than grunt, Rossellini is needlessly sinister and Bradley Cooper is given very little time to twinkle. The segments involving Cooper and the process of selling via QVC are the film’s best moments, creating genuine tension from the question of whether a young woman can successfully flog a mop.
It is in these moments that Joy has real focus and shows the story’s potential. Unfortunately, the first and third acts that bookend the QVC portion aren’t even close to that quality, leaving the film feeling somewhat overlong by the time it comes to an unusual and not entirely satisfying conclusion. There simply isn’t enough discipline to the storytelling, which regularly leads the film off the rails.
| “You’re like a gas leak. We don’t see, we don’t smell you, and you’re silently killing us all.”
There is just enough creativity and spark at the heart of Joy to make it a success. It stands no chance at carving out a major path in the awards race, but it is a respectable addition to the canon of O Russell and his travelling group of performers. At the centre of it all is Jennifer Lawrence, who is very quickly becoming an essential and valuable part of the Hollywood furniture.
Pop or Poop?
It’s an utter mess of a film, with no idea what it is supposed to be, but thankfully, Joy has the immense talent of Jennifer Lawrence in its back pocket.
Lawrence completely takes ownership of the movie, which would otherwise have been a rather half-baked drama. In her hands, Joy Mangano becomes a compelling movie protagonist, even as the world around her often veers off course.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.