Joy (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, PG-13)

Joy 75In the end, it hardly matters how inconsistent the movie can be.

 

 

 

 

Joy 500

In her third collaboration with writer/director David O. Russell, with whom she’s done much of her best work, Jennifer Lawrence stars in Joy as struggling single mom Joy Mangano, who went on to build a multimillion-dollar empire off of one cleverly-designed mop. The based-on-a-true-story premise doesn’t sound that much like previous collaborations Silver Linings Playbook or American Hustle, does it? That’s because it isn’t, really, though there are many elements that are notably Russellian.

Though from a distance the most recognizably Russell facet of Joy is the cast (Lawrence aside, we also have Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, also both alumna of Silver Linings and Hustle), when you’re in it you’ll recognize his take on chaotic families, which we see in everything from his debut, 1994’s Spanking the Monkey, to 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, with 2010’s The Fighter being the best example on this front. And while he does this well (maybe it’s time for him to adapt a Jonathan Franzen novel?), in Joy it borders on over-the-top; Joy’s dad, Rudy (De Niro, switching from being Cooper’s father in Playbook to Lawrence’s father here), has to come live with Joy for awhile, despite his estranged wife Terry (Virginia Madsen) also living on the premises. Joy has kids she can’t keep track of, and remains close with their father, Tony (Édgar Ramírez), despite breaking romantic ties with him some time ago. Tony doesn’t get along with Rudy, and vice versa, but they have to share Joy’s basement, as Tony has long since grown roots down there. Rudy takes a new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini, usually a welcome presence, but here turning in a subpar performance), who similarly doesn’t get along very well with anyone. Joy has a crappy sister, too, and, in general, no one seems to have any want to support her outside of her best friend Jackie (Orange is the New Black’s Dascha Polanco).

Despite all this, Joy invents the Miracle Mop, which is smartly designed to be easier to wring (hands-free!) and with a washable mop head. Needless to say, when Joy takes to inventing and promoting this mop, the film conveniently forgets that she has a day job (for an airline) and is struggling to make ends meet in the first place. Where does she find the time?

That is to say, there’s an overall level of falsity to Joy—it’s misjudged, misguided, and heavy-handed. But, it isn’t altogether bad. People as talented as this team are probably outright incapable of turning in a poor film, and Joy is more of a marker of their low point than of a point-blank failure. It’s a clean, old-fashioned film of female empowerment, harkening back more to the films of the 50s than more recent feminist tracts.

A lot of Joy’s failure weirdly comes from that aforementioned Russell specialty of the chaotic family—where his previous depictions of such have rung true, in Joy it feels like he’s beating you over the head with it, almost as if the film was made by someone trying to emulate his style, and failing. Regardless, Joy is a likable enough character (and Lawrence a strong enough actress) to make you want to see her rise above her surroundings, which you know she’s going to. So in the end, it hardly matters how inconsistent the movie can be—how come no one but Joy seems to be able to figure out how to wring the Miracle Mop? how come Joy can’t sell the mop even to her friends, but does so wonderfully when under pressure?—as if you’re seeing this movie in the first place you probably know what you’re in for, and the film delivers it, even if it is a bumpy ride to get there. | Pete Timmermann

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