Cert: 12A / 124 mins / Dir. David O'Russell / Trailer
Is is that time again already? David O. Russell tiptoes past Christmas and slides another Lawrence/Cooper/De Niro signed card under the door before awards-season kicks in. This time it's a semi-fictionalised biography of Joy Mangano, the inventor of the self-wringing mop. I know you were waiting for that sentence to end with a slightly acerbic aside, but how could I do that? It's a genius idea, and rightly made her a shed-load of cash. And it's that tumultuous chain of events which form the basis for Russell's film.
Business-end first, all the performances here are uniformly fantastic*1, and Jennifer Lawrence in particular continues to be a force to be reckoned with. The range she gets to display in the title role is magnificent considering she doesn't over-egg any of it. Also scoring significant points is Édgar Ramírez as her ex-husband, Tony, my only complaint being that his character felt a little under-used considering the supporting part he plays in the story.
But this isn't just a performance-piece, and that's where it comes undone a little. My main beef is that Joy just has way too much going on. The infrequent humour is dry and understated, the metaphor is slightly heavy-handed, the story is melodramatic and the narration is patronisingly fourth-wall-breaking. None of these would be a deal-breaker, except that the resulting film just doesn't hang together. As much good as Joy has to its credit (and there's a lot), it can't seem to settle into a focused story. Joy's mother's first-act fixation with daytime soap operas and the later strand of the film concerning the QHC home-shopping channel already lend the film a slightly superficial air, but by the time you layer the flashbacks and dream-sequences on top, the fantasy elements begin to outpace the fact in the story. And in itself, it's not a bad story. Just a bit 'afternoon TV-movie'. It also apparently takes place in the early 1990s (although no captioning will tell you this), even though the film looks more late 70s, early 80s. No matter, that's small-fry by narrative comparison.
But if the film has a deeper message, it appears to be concerning the methods by which Joy finally achieves her goals. Whether it's stepping out in front of the cameras on a home-shopping channel to shred your dignity and hawk your wares in a vapid and condescending environment, or travelling to the other side of the country to face-off, manipulate and counter-bully the badly behaving subordinates in your supply-chain: Ingenuity and determination will not be enough for you to succeed in this world. If you want to be a winner, you will first have to lower yourself to the level of those you know you're better than, and then you'll have to become one of them. Yay commerce.
Ultimately, for all my moaning, I know that David O. Russell is a great film-maker. Any aspects of this movie which weren't to my liking are only so because of my own preferences and niggles, and have been put in place with great care and purpose. After spending two hours in Joy's company, I'm still not entirely sure who the film's for - but I know it's not really for the guy who keeps writing 2,000 word analyses of the same Star Wars flick...
In terms of A-list populated, true-story dramatisations about cleaning products, Joy probably loiters somewhere just outside of my top five, I'm afraid.
Nice try David O. Russell, I'll see you in a couple of years...
Oh, y'know, whatever.
Rental. Unless you either star in the film or are thinking of inventing a new type of mop, there's not really going to be a reason to re-watch this too often.
Lawrence is great, Ramirez is great.
It probably does, but I think it could have achieved far more.
Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence, of course, who is due to appear in X-Men: Apocalpyse alongside Rose 'Dormé' Byrne and Oscar 'Dameron' Isaac.
*1 Yes, even Robert De Niro's performance as The Robert De Niro Character™. Sure, he's not breaking any moulds here, but I'll save my ire for next month's Dirty Grandpa. I suppose we'll see how many interviews Bob will strop out of in the meanwhile, eh?
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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