By Christian DiMartino
Joy is a bit of a step back for David O. Russell, who has been on roll ever since The Fighter. That film, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle all made my Best Lists, and I assumed Joy was heading there as well. Well, turns out that lightning can’t strike four times, but I still think Joy is a good film, despite its missteps.
Reteaming with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro for the third time, O. Russell has made an entertaining and occasionally funny biopic (with fiction) that works well, if you’re not looking for substance. If you’re looking for a film to deeply effect you, you have come to the wrong place. But Joy goes to so many places, getting hit by it is kind of infectious.
This time, Lawrence plays Joy Mangano, a strong-willed woman with a very dysfunctional family that gets in her way. What do I mean? Well, with the exception of her Mimi (Diane Ladd, who serves as a narrator) and her daughter, we have her father Rudy (De Niro), a grouchy old man who lives with Joy.
Rudy and Joy’s mother (Virginia Madsen) are long divorced, but yet they live under the same roof. Joy’s mother lies around watching soap operas all day. Then there’s her half sister Peggy (Elizabeth Rohm), who constantly tries to bring her down. Then there’s Joy’s ex-husband Toni (Edgar Ramirez), an aspiring musician who lives in the basement. See, told you they were dysfunctional.
One day, Joy has a eureka moment: she must create a mop in which you can take the mophead off, and wash it. And alas, the Miracle Mop is born. Well, sort of. She turns to Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), Rudy’s current girlfriend, in hopes of investment. Then by some divine miracle, she meets Neil Walker (Cooper), a guy who basically runs a home shopping network, and so on.
Narratively, especially in the early scenes, the film itself could use a mop. Not that it’s bad, but the way O. Russell tells his story begins in such a distracting fashion. But eventually the film finds its footing.
The screenplay by O. Russell and Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids) has a fair share of funny zingers (“You’re like a gas leak, you just sit here killing us all.”). The actors also seem to handle this material with care. Lawrence is at her best here. De Niro, of course, brings game. Everyone gets their moment to shine at least once.
I did enjoy Joy a decent amount, and I thought it worked well as entertainment. So, yeah it is a little disappointing. It kind of lacks the energy that O. Russell has brought to his recent work. But I would say it’s far from a bad film. It’s a different kind of movie, and in an age where we get sequels out the yin-yang, something a little different isn’t such a bad thing.