Joy (2015)

DAVID O. RUSSELL

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

USA, 2015.  , , , , .  Story by , David O. Russell, Screenplay by David O. Russell.  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , , , David O. Russell.  Music by , .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by , , , .  

Joy is at a point in her life where everyone is wearing her out: her mother (Virginia Madsen) watches soap operas all day and lives in a dream world, her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) is living in the basement, her father (Robert De Niro) has been dumped by his girlfriend and needs to move back in, her half-sister (Elisabeth Rohm) has had perpetual resentment for her since day one, and her two children need her constant care and attention. Her loving grandmother (Diane Ladd, who is wonderful) is the only person who is actually helpful, a generous heart who is constantly telling our heroine (Jennifer Lawrence) that she was meant to be a leader and outclass everyone around her. This is hard for our modern-day Cinderella to believe considering she is barely getting by on grueling jobs, failing to live up to the potential that was set out for her when she was selected as class valedictorian at her high school graduation. One thing that has always set Joy apart, however, is that she has always liked to make things, and one day while wringing out a mop full of broken glass, she comes up with a great invention: a mop that is self-wringing. The road to success is about as treacherous as the life that preceded it: first you need an investor (Isabella Rossellini is hilarious as De Niro’s rich girlfriend), and then you need to get it on TV (Bradley Cooper as the director of QVC). Even when those things fall into place, there are obstacles to overcome considering that people steal ideas behind her back and financial troubles keep piling on even when the invention begins to sell. In short, this oddball fairy tale has trouble finding its happily ever after.  David O. Russell’s painfully unsubtle direction makes Joy a heroine for the modern age, a wonderful woman who doesn’t need a prince to save her, but gets her happy ending by sticking to her resources and ignoring all who doubt her. Watching her do this is quite the pleasure, and the story is one well worth investing your time in, but the level of caricature to which Russell takes the people around her makes one wonder what purpose there is in all the invention happening here. The project was initially begun by screenwriter Annie Mumolo as a biopic about Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop, but once taken over by Russell (who relegates Mumolo’s contribution to story credit) has been given characters and situations taken from, according to press notes, other women who achieved greatness against the odds (while at the same time never mentioning Mangano or her product by name). Since the object in question, the mop itself, is the primary focus of the movie, it feels more like Mangano’s accomplishments had too boring a path to success for the movies to be interested in her, which means the filmmaker needs to be obnoxiously cute about inventing details and conflicts. Dialogue constantly being delivered in a low hush for an ultra-ironic effect becomes grating at times, as does an emphasis on pressure-cooker situations that bind Joy under oppression but rarely lets her release it (don’t show me Rossellini’s finger wagging in her face that many times unless someone is going to break it off). Lawrence is herself as wonderful as she is miscast, a pristine and youthful bit of freshness who has all the talent the part requires but couldn’t look worn out if she was tied to the back of a truck and dragged through town. Her integrity is easily established, however, and she does not disappoint, while Susan Lucci and Donna Mills are on hand to do very good-natured send-ups of their soap opera personas.

Academy Award Nomination:  Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence)

Golden Globe Award:  Best Actress-Musical/Comedy (Jennifer Lawrence)
Nomination:  Best Picture-Musical/Comedy

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