Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd
Since Oscar nominated writer/director David O. Russell’s previous films have earned such acclaim, accolades and awards for his cast, you expect a certain level of grandeur. “Joy”, based on the real life story of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano begins with Russell’s signature dysfunctional family pieces but quickly turns lackluster. His third time casting Lawrence and her first leading role should have provided “The Hunger Games” actress with her most multifaceted performance. However, “Joy” plays out with little of the creative fanfare we have come to expect from the five time Oscar nominated filmmaker. Continuing to work with an impressive alignment of actors, none of the characters in “Joy” jump off the page as they did in “Silver Linings Playbook” or “American Hustle”.
The hopes and dreams of that little blond Joy running around her childhood home creating things never evolved into the life she imaged. Grandmother Mimi (Ladd) helped Joy (Lawrence) through a divorce and care for her two children while Joy’s soap-opera addicted mother (Madsen), stuck upstairs watching television while ex-husband Tony (Ramírez) practices his vocal stylings in the basement. Making matters worse, Joy’s womanizing father (DeNiro) just got dropped off by his second wife with nowhere to live. Life has interfered with Joy’s plans, but after cutting her hands while wringing out a mop she has an idea that could finally change her future.
With four separate editors brought in to change the tone and arc of the film four separate times the studio felt awards contention slipping, there are too many hands in the pot.
Everything about “Joy” looks like it could be the perfect Russell film with a smart and savvy leading female character, uninterested in love or relationships, surrounded by a crazy and chaotic family. Yet somehow the volume and the eccentricities of a Russell film are drowned out here; inner monologues, narration and subdued behavior replace the chaos this director is known for orchestrating like a maestro. As far as explaining the rise of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano through her many, many setbacks, “Joy” achieves the biographical portion. Lawrence is given little to do but push the story through its historical bullet points and if she does receive a fourth Oscar nomination for this performance, it will be her weakest entry and due to popularity, not because she was better than the other 2015 contenders. Lawrence is charismatic and straightforward in this role, finally playing the sane one among a family of misfits. “I don’t want to end up like my family,” she says.
The first time I felt “Joy” might transform into a better film occurs when our lead character hastily returns to the set of QVC demanding the show’s producer (Cooper) allow her to showcase and sell the mop instead of some buffoon who has never mopped a day in his life. In that moment, in that entire scene, “Joy” becomes the film I was looking for and finally everyone could identify and empathize with the character. As many times as Cooper and Lawrence have been on screen together (this is the fourth) they always find new ground and their scenes in “Joy” are the best this film has to offer. DeNiro is simply playing a different version of his Oscar nominated “Silver Linings Playbook” character while Rossellini, Ramírez, and Ladd have limited screen time which doesn’t help their underdeveloped characters. Madsen (“Sideways”) is the comic relief of the film with her gigantic glasses, but it’s a one note role that never offers an explanation for her predicament. With four separate editors brought in to change the tone and arc of the film four separate times the studio felt awards contention slipping, there are too many hands in the pot.
David O. Russell’s Lawrence/DeNiro/Cooper trilogy hits its weakest point.