Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Speaks Reviews: Joy


★★ out of ★★★★

A Speaks Movie Review

Given the mixed response from critics, I kept high hopes for Joy. I must come out right off the bat and be honest:  I love Jennifer Lawrence. I would be entertained watching her read a phone book. She is absolutely gorgeous, naturally gifted, and has proven time and time again, since bursting onto the scene with the dark indie film Winter's Bone in 2010, that she can carry a movie.

In 2015, though, the movies she gave her all to failed her. Mockingjay, Part 2 is half a movie that is way too long and its source material didn't have the "fire" of the previous two anyway. Not her fault. Now, here comes Joy, looking to get some of that late year Oscar buzz. It falls flat, wimps out, and ends up meaning absolutely nothing. Not her fault

Like with Lawrence, I often champion the director David O. Russell. I adored his last two movies, both featuring Jennifer Lawrence:  the dysfunctional family drama/zany romance Silver Linings Playbook and the con game crime drama American Hustle. He has finally misstepped for me here, which sort of hurts. I get geared up for his movies. I am letdown. And it's not that Joy is a bad film, technically. It looks good, sounds good, it moves well, every performance is full of energy. It's just not a very powerful story, and I walked out feeling nothing.


Joy is about a downtrodden, divorced single mother with big ideas, loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop, President of Ingenious Designs, and regular on HSN. (When I said "loosely based," I meant it. David O. Russell didn't even meet the real Joy until well into filming. Her last name is never even mentioned in the movie.)

As the title character, Jennifer Lawrence truly does deliver. Her performance is rock solid. The film begins with a narration by Joy's grandmother (Diane Ladd), a woman who constantly reinforces young Joy's imagination. Home video style footage of childhood is nicely edited in, creating a well-paced, highly entertaining sort of prologue. Joy's father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), runs an auto repair business, has been married several times, and pops back up whenever his lady kicks him out. Also under Joy's roof is her mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), an agoraphobic soap opera junkie. Then, always around is Joy's ex-husband, Tony (Édgar Ramirez), a failed lounge singer, and her best friend, Jackie (Dascha Polanco). Joy is always on the outs with her half-sister, Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), who runs their father's business. Right around the time Rudy meets a new gal, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), Joy is struck with a mega idea while mopping up a spill of glass and red wine, gets the widowed Trudy to invest and the rest of the family on board, and then her struggle devolves from strong single mother to failed business owner.

The first act (all of which I've summarized) is the best, proving just how solid David O. Russell is at writing and directing the dysfunctional family dynamic. He is really as good as anybody at this. I felt quite a bit of "Joy" during the opening act, not only in how relatable it is but also in how great a blend of acting, directing, cinematography, and editing is at play. We see Joy struggling to get ready for work, taking care of the messed up pipes, coffee stain on her blouse, crying kids, arguing with her mother, taking crap at work. Joy is a real life character, who is decidedly real life.


But, as the movie goes on, it becomes less and less of something worth caring about. Joy's big break comes when she meets the head of QVC, Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper). He takes her in and gives her a shot, then another. There are a couple of betrayals and twists along the way, but then it just sort of ends. Bradley Cooper's talents are wasted, save one good scene involving an obsession with hands.

Where's the fire? Where's the passion? Joy gets treated like a doormat for the better part of this movie and pretty much just takes it. I want to escape into movies, live vicariously through strong characters. If I wanted to see a movie character (in a film of this nature) cower down when people dump on her, I would just take a step back and look at my own life. I wanted Joy to let these people who would use her have it.

Russell can write loud, highly entertaining grandstanding, even real and true emotion (see: Any of his other movies.) Where is that here? He has made Joy too nice to be rooted for. We were warned at the beginning of this movie that this is a story about "daring women." We believe that to be so for quite awhile, then...nothing. I found the daring in Joy as a single mother, making ends meet, struggling. I found nothing daring in a woman who gets a break and then keeps letting those closest to her try to take it away.

In the end, all I got was that Joy (however real or fictitious) was Lucky. 

16 comments:

  1. Lucky is probably the best way to describe Joy, because she just so happened to know the right people in every situation. That's probably what made her character less inspirational despite the script.

    I disagree about Mockingjay part II! I really liked it, and I thought JLaw's performance was spectacular! Sure, it lacked the fire of Catching Fire, but I thought it was a nice conclusion to the series.

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    1. Definitely. What am I supposed to be rooting for here? This movie delivers a mixed message.

      Mockingjay, in and of itself, is just inferior to the other two novels. Purely my opinion. I'm sure a lot of the fans of the books loved the movie. And I know people had a good time. It's a flawless action picture. Like Joy, it's just not a very good story, and I find that ending to be out of nowhere, then really cool, then just stupid, then too easy.

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  2. I love Isabella Rossellini and want to see this film because of her but the story sounds a bit "moppish" (sorry I had to-it was begging me to do this:)) What a shame that the director didn't bother to talk to the actual person who invented this mop. Actually the film sounds like many pictures done before. Down on the luck person, fights to be heard and finally is and makes good....snore

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    1. She's good as always. But, yeah, "moppish"...lol. It is definitely predictable (obviously...we now who Joy is based on), but it's also just too easy and nice.

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  3. I had a fear this would happen. I mean, the idea of making a movie about the making of a mop just sounded so...not worth it...and then I read all this 'supposed' backstory that sounded so interesting and the array of characters and I was like...maybe...maybe...and then I read that O. Russell basically gave nobody by Lawrence anything to do, and I think that was his downfall. Russell is an actor's director, which I know he feels a bit of resentment about, but really his films are all about his actors and not him...and maybe here he was trying to prove he could be the focal point of a film...and maybe he just proved that he can't be.

    Alas, I'll still see this...but I'm just sad that it isn't what it could have and probably should have been.

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    1. There are solid moments from De Niro and Cooper and Rossellini and Madsen, but not nearly enough. I'm telling you...I live for O. Russell's movies just for the intense crazy. That is only there for maybe the first part of the first act, then it just fizzles. He slacked on himself here for sure.

      Yes. Still see it. You may like it more than I do.

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  4. I have to admit, I'll only be watching Joy for Jennifer Lawrence, she really does bring every role she plays to life. I'm not sold on the story yet but I'm willing to give it a chance! Great review :)
    - Allie

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    1. Thanks. I'll see any movie with Jennifer Lawrence. I don't care what it is. I had higher expectations here because David O. Russell is usually such a solid director. Not so much here.

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  5. Well, I loved Joy. It's probably going to end up as one of the 10 best films of the year for me. Jennifer Lawrence, as always, was SUPERBLY EXCELLENT, & she is one of the best actresses of our time, & I love her so much. (She is definitely my celebrity crush. Oh crap, did I just type that?) De Niro & Ladd were also excellent. Cooper was great as well. Rossellini gave a great performance, & this is definitely her best performance since Blue Velvet. Ramirez, Röhm & Polanco were also really good. David O. Russell's direction was really good, although it does slightly pale in comparison to Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter & American Hustle. The screenplay was excellent, although it does slightly pale in comparison to Russell's other film screenplays as well. Overall, it's definitely one of the best films of the year. 4 out of 4 stars for me.

    (P.S. My friend & I both agree with you on Jennifer Lawrence. Me & her would both be entertained by Jennifer Lawrence reading a phone book as well).

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    1. Yeah. It just didn't have enough for me, man. Great stuff going on. But I felt no connection to it at all. Glad we agree on J Law. Damn!

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    2. Yes. I'm glad the 3 of us agree. My friend has been a huge J-Law fan for a while. She hasn't seen any of the movies J-Law's been nominated for (she's only seen the Hunger Games movies & she loves them all), but she really wants to see Joy. Between me & her, I've been more of the J-Law fan that loves her Oscar-nominated roles. But she really wants to see Silver Linings Playbook, Winter's Bone, & American Hustle.

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    3. Hey hey, we can knock it off with all the JLaw love. ;)
      - Speak's Wife

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  6. I agree Lawrence can carry a movie. Her over the top persona bothers me in interviews, but I think she's a tremendously talented actress. It's sad this movie does nothing for her. I'll wait for the DVD.

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    1. It does more for her than anybody else, I'll say. She's always good. It's just a weak story.

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  7. Totally agree. I even remember thinking in the theater during the first part of the movie, "why does everyone think it sucks." Oh, the rest of the movie, that's why. The acting was great and the movie looked fantastic.

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    1. Yeah. Nobody even shifted in their seats. Total lame duck of a movie.

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