Director: David O.Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini
Written by: (also story) David O. Russell and (story) Annie Mumolo
Running Time: 124 mins
Release date: 1st January 2016
David O. Russell’s latest film is a bit of a curiosity. Taking, as his basis, rags to riches story of an ordinary housewife who became an inventor, he decided to play around with the narrative in order to make it seem more interesting, then gives up on the idea and decides to play it as a straight drama. What we get is a mess of a movie that almost loses the viewer before the real meat and bones begin. It’s also saved by a star who has enough screen presence to be able to save a film.
Joy is a mother of two, who lives in a small house with her soap opera obsessive mother, her grandmother, her father (who is divorced) and her ex-husband (also divorced). Money is tight and Joy is struggling. While out on a yacht belonging to her father’s new girlfriend, she comes up with an idea while trying to mop up red wine. A super mop that you can squeeze out without touching and a head that can be put in the washing machine. With capital from her father’s new flame, Joy’s invention takes shape. Trying to sell it is another hurdle until she pays a visit to QVC.
Russell has had a string of hit films under his belt from The Fighter to Silver Linings Playbook to American Hustle. Each having their own style and tone about them. Here he starts off the film focusing on Joy’s mother’s obsession with a poorly acted soap opera, paralleling the life of this downtrodden woman to that on the TV screen. Quite frankly, it’s a muddled. Jumping back and forwards in time, unable to work out if this is a comedy or a drama or both, for the first half of it’s running time, Russell delivers an unfocused mess in which we care or really understand about any of the characters within this world.
As if lacking in any conviction with that idea, by the second half the soap opera is forgotten and we get into conventional storytelling that gives the film an almighty lift. Instead of trying to fathom what is going on and when, we now start to get a clearer picture of Joy, her invention and the struggles she has face while dealing with plastic moulders and scrupulous businessmen,in order to be a success. The film, frankly, becomes a clearer and interesting premise.
In the process, some of the performances come across as paper-thin. Robert De Niro shows flashes of the old Bobby we loved so much in the 70’s and 80’s, just he is let down by a weak script that doesn’t allow any movement. The same applies to the rest of the supporting cast, including the likes of Virginia Madsen and Isabella Rossellini. Yet when the film settles down, Bradley Copper arrives and is perfectly likeable and appealing as the head buyer for QVC.
Yet it is Russell’s muse, Jennifer Lawrence, who has to carry the weight of the whole film on her shoulders and because of her, it becomes a much more bearable experience. As Joy, you see a woman pushed to the edge, struggling to cope under so much yet strong enough to see a light at the end of the tunnel. She manages to mix vulnerability with sassiness and ultimately coolness while still being completely believable. It might not be her greatest role to date but she certainly deserves a medal for taking her audience through the mess and sticking with her.
Joy’s story is a fascinating one about an underdog fighting the odds and coping with, not only the wolves of commerce but sometimes her own family. It’s a tale that has plenty of interest and in the hands of another director, we might have had a solidly made film. Instead we have a director who doesn’t know what to do with the story, thus making it seem like a work in progress. Thankfully with Lawrence’s strong central performance at hand, we get through it, with only a few minor bruises.