Dir. David O. Russell, Script. David O. Russell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper
Plot: Struggling mother Joy (Lawrence) attempts to sell one of her inventions while trying to deal with her family.
Joy, the latest picture from director David O. Russell and his travelling company of trusted actors, is a semi-biopic (?) of mother-of-three and ‘Miracle Mop’ inventor Joy Mangano, referred to as a ‘love letter to daring women, one in particular’ by the American auteur. Joy is Russell’s fourth flick this decade, but seems to be the first to fail to make significant movements in Oscar season. The film plays like a collage of individually brilliant scenes, some of which will have audiences dragged directly into this underdog story; but these individual scenes can sometimes cloud flaws in the overall picture.
JOY (Jennifer Lawrence) shows us that setting up a business can be stressful. Very stressful.
Russell’s preferred actress Jennifer Lawrence (working together again after American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, which resulted in Lawrence’s first Oscar triumph) is given a strong three-dimensional role in inventor Joy that anchors a sometimes scattershot narrative. Lawrence gives her character multiple sides, and a winning combination of steely determination and vulnerability. Lawrence is definitely one of the finest screen actors we have right now, and her collaborations with Russell seem to be her nirvana. His clever direction allows all her talents to be unleashed upon the frame – the scenes in where things finally begin to go right for her far more powerful for her presence within them.
But these scenes come few and far between as Lawrence, determined to make money on a self-ringing mop, is continually pushed down by difficulties with commerce (a word said so often and so reverently that, to an alien, commerce would be evolution’s gladiatorial battleground), authority, and her own family. Ultimately, I feel that Russell doesn’t quite capture the correct balance of good and bad moments, with nearly every good moment instantly counterpointed with a setback of equal magnitude. Even the supposedly uplifting ending, which feels noticeably contrived, fails to hit with the right punch – after 2 hours of near constant disappointment, the ending felt far too rushed.
From a young age, Joy’s family have held her ambitions back through their one-dimensionality.
And another issue with Joy is that everything around Lawrence’s central character seems to be window dressing. De Niro and Cooper are saddled with one-dimensional roles which their proven acting abilities do not merit, despite their best efforts to flesh their characters out. Beyond them however, each character serves only to help Joy or, most likely, to test and antagonise her. But when its moments do come (and believe me they do), Joy does shine thanks to a typically strong Jennifer Lawrence performance, as well as David O. Russell’s signature charms. While Joy may not be in the same league as some of Russell’s fantastic filmography, it holds up as a more than competent underdog story which is definitely worth a look.