Featuring a Golden Globe winning performance by Jennifer Lawrence, Joy is another strong turn from director David O Russell.
David O Russell’s latest tale began life as a straight out biopic of Joy Mangano, self-made millionaire and inventor of the Miracle Mop, but soon evolved into a film “inspired by the true stories of daring women.” A jealous half sister (Elisabeth Rohm) was added in and Mangano’s mother (Virginia Madsen) was reworked to be a bit of a kook, all to allow the director to do what he does best – explore dysfunction. The film is at its best as it builds up to show us the circumstances of Joy’s life with two kids, an ex-husband in the basement and divorced parents both living under her roof. The madness builds up from the films opening in some hilarious scenes, with Robert DeNiro delivering some particularly funny exchanges amidst it all.
In what is now a Golden Globe winning performance, Lawrence is once again at the top of her game as the titular Joy. Despite reports of O Russell being difficult to work with, there is no doubt that he and Lawrence have a perfect partnership. She is frequently the best part of his films, and it could be argued that her relegation to a supporting role had a lot to do with American Hustle’s (2014) lackluster impact. Here she manages to make Joy relatable in a way that goes far beyond her age – at 25 it should be laughable that she is playing a matriarch of sorts, but she carries it well and her youthful appearance is ultimately only a minor quibble.
Bradley Cooper pops up as a QVC executive, and he delivers a solid performance in spite of being consistently outshone by Lawrence, who is the undisputed star of the show. Isabella Rossellini comes closest to toppling her, with her fantastic supporting role as Trudy, girlfriend to Joy’s father and the one who finances her invention – one scene that particularly stands out sees Trudy question Joy on her business acumen.
Thematically, the film is a pretty solid take on the American Dream. It feels like O Russell is playing with satire without ever fully committing to it, and the the narrative would have benefited from less dilly-dallying, but the message is strong and it is great so see films being made about strong women (though this does beg the question of why are they not being made by strong women?).
O Russell also plays with some surrealist elements throughout which aren’t as bad as you might think – they are at least an attempt to deviate from the tired biopic format, and I’ll take a sometimes questionable attempt at something new over the done to death narrative we are so used to seeing any day.
Ultimately Joy is more Silver Linings Playbook (2012) than it is American Hustle, but its still missing that magic quality that makes a film truly memorable, and this is something that Jennifer Lawrence alone can’t fix.