I still can’t work out what I feel about Jennifer Lawrence. On the one hand, she seems super cool and down-to-earth and I want to be her friend. On the other, she seems really irritating in a “trying to seem to cool and down-to-earth” kind of way. Of course that’s probably just down to how cynical and bitchy I am. Lawrence is a formidable talent and has brought great things to even the shittest productions. I’d probably be willing to watch anything if she had a key role and, it just so happens that I just have. If nothing else, Joy has been a gift to film critics. The title gives plenty of potential for witty quips about being or not being filled with joy as the credits roll. Very fucking clever guys. It means reading reviews gets kind of repetitive so I’ll try not to fall into the same old trap.
When it comes down to it, I still don’t think I’m a fan of David O. Russell’s films. There’s something about his style that I just can’t quite get on board with. I can’t say I had a great deal of praise for either American Hustle or Silver Linings Playbook. As far as I could see if it hadn’t been for J Law then neither would have had an awful lot going for them. O. Russell is the kind of director who likes to make real life a bit quirkier and comic but without risking stepping into Wes Anderson territory.
Joy is based on the true story of businesswoman Joy Mangano (J Law), a single mother who found success selling her uniquely designed mop. I say based on because O. Russell has played with Annie Mumolo’s original script to make the story more interesting. The simple examination of the realities of the American Dream told from the perspective of a desperate young woman wasn’t enough for the director. He changed aspects of Mangano’s story and added the unnecessary and undeveloped framing narrative of a trashy soap opera. The soap opera is watched by Joy’s mother (Virginia Madsen) who, following her divorce, has shut herself in her room and spends her days in bed watching television. The characters on screen are supposed to mirror the people in Joy’s life but it’s a device that never really gets off the ground. It’s picked up when O. Russell an be bothered and then dropped when there’s other shit to talk about. It’s just another step too quirky.
That’s not to say that Joy fails on all counts. O. Russell’s decision to compare Joy’s position as matriarch to that of a mob boss is an interesting concept and the parallels work well on screen. However, this, as with a lot of O. Russell’s directorial decisions, adds very little to the narrative and are clumsily linked together. There are a number of subplots that just sort of happen whilst the main narrative is going on: adding nothing more than what feels like days to the running time. The main story should have been enough for O. Russell to work with: Joy, a young mother, is left fighting to keep her family afloat. Growing up as a creative child, she had to put her desires on hold to care for her divorced parents and the ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) who is living in her basement. After a fairly ordinary accident Joy comes up with her idea for a self-wringing mop and immediately starts drawing up crude plans in crayon. Thanks to a contact of her ex, Joy in introduced to QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) and is able to sell her product on the growing network.
Of course, things are never straight forward and Joy has to deal with several bumps in the road before she finally manages to find the success she so desires. Still, it gives Jennifer Lawrence a lot to work with and it’s easy to see why she’s making a name for herself this awards season. Lawrence is a fucking great actress and is by far and away the best thing about the film. It’s also the greatest of Lawrence’s O. Russell performances to date. She plays worn-down Joy with an overall dignity, sense of hope and determination that fights against the chaos that is ensuing around her.
Those surrounding her are a hit-and-miss bunch of supporting characters. Robert DeNiro is back with O. Russell and co to play another intense father though DeNiro is happily more nuanced here than he was in Silver Linings Playbook. The actor proves he still has a great deal to offer if he were offered something worth his talents. Bradley Cooper likewise returns and, whilst I’m still not convince he’s much more than a pretty face, shows that he can do calm and business like as Walker. Although, given that he isn’t actually given a lot to do, it’s not the kind of evidence that would hold up to much scrutiny. The rest of the cast all add something to the narrative but have fuck all chances to develop. Any attempt to flesh these characters out is forgotten once the story starts to pick up pace. This might be in-keeping with O. Russell’s plan to mirror the people of the fictional soap opera but it never quite lands. Instead we have a bunch of random people who just flounder on screen whilst J Law is kicking ass.
Joy is by no means a terrible film. I probably disliked it less than Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. However, it could have been a great deal better than it was. It’s certainly elevated by Jennifer Lawrence’s performance but more work was needed to really give do this story justice. O. Russell once again gets distracted playing with genre and manufacturing moments of dark comedy to really give a shit about the American Dream. It’s not a streamlined affair and there were moments when I was willing the inevitable ending to arrive. So I guess you could say I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy… oh fuck.