Under the assured direction of David O Russell, “Joy” tells the dramatised tale of the eponymous heroine, loosely based on the true life story of Joy Mangano. Jennifer Lawrence plays her as a struggling inventor trying to get the crazy idea in her head onto paper and then into the shops. When you consider that the product is a mop, this sounds incredibly dull. But the film is actually far from it. With all her worldly possessions on the line, the twists and turns of the plot make for a gripping cinema-going experience. (I could add a joke in here about coming out of the cinema all wrung-out, but that is beneath me).
Creating the emotional backbone to the story are the dysfunctional family and friends who orbit planet Joy: her lothario father (Robert De Niro) and his latest belle (Trudi played by Isabella Rossellini as a conveniently very-well-heeled widower); her soap-addicted and virtually bed-bound mother (Virginia Madsen); her divorced husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) who lives in the basement; her half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) always trying to get one better; her childhood friend Jackie (a stunning Dascha Polanco) and her encouraging grandmother (Dianne Ladd) who also narrates the story.
Supporting this core is the “beautiful” (my wife’s words) Bradley Cooper as the lead buyer/producer with the QVC shopping channel.
Russell’s style is to utilize flash-backs, flash-forwards, dream sequences and some startlingly unusual cinematography, making for a hypnotically watchable movie. However, the style is patchy and makes the film difficult to categorize: it resembles in places the soaps that are re-enacted throughout the piece; it has elements of a thriller in some of the more gripping scenes; it has comedic elements, but isn’t really a comedy. The result is something that generates a degree of unsettling confusion in the viewer. Perhaps it is this inconsistency that is meant to mirror the roller-coaster ride that Joy’s life takes, with the approach being intentional? It’s unclear.
I’ve also come to realize that I have a pathological hatred of narration in films (I blame “Blade Runner”), and for me the grandmother’s over-dubs are both unnecessary and irritating.
The acting turn that holds the whole film together is that of Lawrence who delivers an awards-worthy performance. She can act ‘frustration’ extremely well, with a side-order of ‘steely determination’ we’ve seen from her Hunger Games performances. Here she has full rein to exercise both.
Russell’s script (from the fictionalised story by Russell and Annie Mumulo) is generally sharp, building up a drum-beat of tension around some of the family relationships and early business decisions that you know are going to bite later. Portions of the script however I just didn’t relate to, in particular Trudi’s ‘four questions’ monologue which felt false and disjointed and jolted me out of my belief in the overall story.
If you enjoyed David O Russell’s earlier films, such as “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” then I think you will greatly enjoy this one. My rating is based on my entertainment and enjoyment value, but the film is not without flaws. For that reason I doubt it will be as strong a Best Film Oscar contender as either “Playbook” or “Hustle” were.
By the way, some of the scenes in the main trailers, and particularly some of Lawrence’s promotional interviews, have given rather more of the outcome away than I would have liked – so best avoided – but there are still some surprises in the story that both thrill and sadden in alternate waves. (The attached teaser trailer below is much better).
Fad Rating: FFFF.