Directed by: David O. Russell
Premise: Based on a true story, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) invents the Miracle Mop and attempts to get her business off the ground while coping with her difficult family and avoiding sabotage by business competitors.
What Works: Joy is a straightforward rags-to-riches narrative and the filmmakers tell that story well. This is a film about a woman who goes out on a limb to start her own business and in the process she unlocks her potential as an entrepreneur and as a human being. As such, Joy is an all American movie in much the same way as Rocky and it is satisfying in many of the same ways. As a rags-to-riches story, something that Joy does especially well is to emphasize the rags. The path to success is long and has many twists and the filmmakers do an excellent job of putting the title character through the ringer before the movie reaches its climax. Joy was directed by David O. Russell whose recent films include Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and The Fighter and Russell’s movies have a fun and quirky tone even while dealing with serious subject matter. Joy has that same combination of qualities and like those pictures the characters of Joy are strange and idiosyncratic. The supporting cast of this movie is terrific. Robert De Niro and Virginia Madsen play the divorced parents of the title character and they each contribute a lot to the film. Madsen in particular is quite good as Joy’s mother; at the start of the film she spends her entire day watching soap operas and is so immersed in the lives of these fictional people that she’s nearly lost touch with reality. Isabella Rossellini is cast as the girlfriend of Robert De Niro’s character; her late husband’s fortune funds Joy’s business venture and as protector of the estate Rossellini gives nuggets of business wisdom that are some of the best moments in the film. Bradley Cooper also appears in a supporting role as the manager of the QVC cable network. Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence work well together on screen and Cooper brings a lot to a very small role. Like David O. Russell’s other movies, the film has its fun at the expense of these goofy characters but it also maintains a great deal of empathy for them.
What Doesn’t: As good as the central actors are in this movie, Joy is hindered by the miscasting of Jennifer Lawrence in the title role. Part of the problem is her age; Lawrence is only twenty-six but she’s playing a middle aged woman. The age disparity is a problem because the character of Joy Mangano requires more world weariness than Lawrence is able to muster. She begins the movie as a divorced mother of two in a tenuous economic situation and living in a chaotic family environment. Lawrence is just not frazzled enough on the outset. That’s partly attributable to her youth but also to an unwillingness by the filmmakers to spoil Lawrence’s good looks. That impacts the movie later on as Joy grows from a fledgling entrepreneur and into the matriarch of a business empire. There is a character arc inherent to the material but Lawrence does not do enough to convey that change and the script fails to give her concrete moments that dramatize her growth. The story of Joy runs smoothly for most of its running time but the ending is abrupt. The conclusion leaps forward in time and very interesting story developments are rushed through. As a result, Joy is limited to a simplistic rags-to-riches story; it settles for being Working Girl when it could have been The Social Network. The film also has strange use of voiceover. Joy’s grandmother narrates the opening of the story but her voiceover contributes very little to the movie and the events of the film aren’t really seen through the grandmother’s point of view.
Bottom Line: Joy succeeds in telling an American success story. The subject matter has the potential to be a lot more than that but the filmmakers leave the more provocative ideas on the table. Joy tells its story well enough to be an enjoyable and entertaining film even if it is essentially a Lifetime movie with an A-list cast.
Episode: #577 (January 10, 2016)