★★ out of ★★★★
A Speaks Movie Review
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.