It feels like Jennifer Lawrence has been around forever – it’s weird to think she’s only 25, and has already proven herself to be one of the best female performers on my generation. True to form, she is fantastic in David O. Russell’s Joy, but she suffers from a screenplay that is too admiring for its own good and thus becomes cliché-ridden at its unusual end-point.
The film recounts the story of Joy Mangano, played here by Jennifer Lawrence, and four generations of her family. Joy was a divorced mother of two in the 1990s, living with them, her mother, her grandmother, her ex-husband and, at some points, her father (Robert De Niro). After cutting her hands cleaning up a spillage and wringing the mop, invents a self-wringing mop and tries to get the product of the ground – this eventually leads her to QVC and its executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), who she convinces to give her a shot. She becomes an overnight success, but must face betrayal and treachery, both inside and outside her family, using her imagination to carry her through the storm she faces.
Joy was a movie I really wanted to like – a true underdog story of a woman using her wits and her grit against a storm of people telling her she will never amount to anything to become a success – as cinematic experiences go, there is truly little that is more cathartic. And to a large extent, it is that, but I felt that even in the moments it presented as low, the viewer never really feels that Joy is going to fail. As such, the dramatic tension that such a move would normally provoke is disappointingly absent – there would points where I found myself thinking I should cry, but not feeling that way.
This is no way links to Lawrence’s performance, which is never far from excellent. She’s a woman who can do it all – dramatic to comedic and everything in between, able to fluctuate between the two with ease. Lawrence is a superb actress, and she can sell any character she plays – here, you really feel for Joy as she suffers setbacks and are therefore pleased when she succeeds. The film may not convey the emotion quite as well as it wants, but Lawrence certainly does – she is the heart of Joy.
Lawrence is lucky to be backed up by a fantastic supporting cast, featuring the likes of Robert De Niro (who as of late has been more than happy to turn in bland performances for the pay check and his name on the poster) as her father and Isabella Rossellini as the subtly horrible wicked stepmother. I could namecheck al of the cast here, who are all great with the material they have – it is a shame, then, that some (I’m thinking Bradley Cooper) have little to do when they could’ve been explored more fully.
At times, Joy seems almost like a fairy-tale – it’s almost literal rags to riches story, coupled with a bunch of dream sequences, flashbacks to Joy’s childhood and grandma Mimi’s (Diane Ladd) narration, imbues the story with a fantasy quality. Joy is very much the fairy-tale heroine, relying as much on her innate goodness as she does on charms to succeed in her quest. As is typical of a fairy-tale, the story is in the journey and the ending is just a perfunctory note of success. It’s a shame, though, that the movie lingers on its climax so briefly. The film seems to promise the story of Joy’s long term success, and yet it is almost an offhand mention. Similarly, it suggests that the partnership between Joy and Walker will be of importance, but that too is glossed over.
Russell’s direction is competent, with some interesting and successful stylistic choices, but her clear admiration for the real life Joy Mangano means that the film tends to become a mess of clichés towards its rushed climax. We see that Russell is drawing parallels with Walker, focusing on the good aspects in such a way that the viewer can’t help but enjoy the feel-good payoff, but despite a wonderful performance by Jennifer Lawrence, the magic doesn’t quite come across.
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Edgar Ramirez (Tony), Robert De Niro (Rudy), Virginia Madsen (Terry), Isabella Rossellini (Trudy), Bradley Cooper (Neil Walker)
Running Time: 124 Mins