Movie Review: Joy

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A single mother of two puts everything on the line to support her new invention and build a future for her family.

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David O. Russell, 2015

Joy tells the somewhat true story of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), who is struggling to stay afloat in a crappy airport job while supporting her family. Living with her in her tiny house are: her two children, her soap-opera addicted mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), her struggling singer ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez), her loving grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), and, following a break-up with his latest suitor, her temperamental father Rudy (Robert de Niro). But when Joy is pushed to breaking point and spills some wine on her father’s new girlfriend Trudy’s (Isabella Rosselini) yacht, she comes to a realisation. Following a vision, Joy invents a brand new mop that will change the way people clean. Joy is determined to make the most of her new invention, with help and hindrance from her family along the way.

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Joy is a muddled mess of a movie. Most of this comes down to tone. Joy wants to be a dramedy, but it can’t get the mix right. There’s a light, quirky, highly stylised aesthetic to the movie that doesn’t fit Joy or her life. The film opens declaring its intentions to celebrate strong women, but that narrative doesn’t seem to fit the film. Instead, only Joy is celebrated, and even then the poor pacing means that there’s no build to a sense of celebration or, er, joy. Essentially, every time Joy takes a step forward, something comes along in her life to knock her two steps back. There’s a moment near the end that wants you to feel as though it’s triumphant, but it fails. If Joy were consistently standing up to people, or consistently failing to stand up to people, it would be much more effective as a story. Instead, Joy frequently stands up for herself but is left powerless by something out of her control. That makes the narrative more frustrating than impressive, and could possibly come down to the fact that Mangano herself was credited as a producer. None of this is helped by the film’s whimsical tone, which undercuts all the genuine moments of drama, tension, and triumph by playing them all too light. The soap opera framing device, despite cleverly casting Susan Lucci, doesn’t actually clear up any of this and its relevance is unclear.

You would think, with a cast like the one Joy has, that this would be a better movie. However, it isn’t the fault of the cast that it isn’t. There are some strong performances in here. It’s great to see Isabella Rosselini in a role like this, petty and real and human. Edgar Ramirez gets a great growth arc and he plays the whole thing well, from irresponsible dreamy dreamer to business partner and friend. The lynchpin, though, is Jennifer Lawrence’s powerful, emotional portrayal of Joy. She’s always incredibly watchable. That doesn’t, unfortunately, make her actually believably old enough to play this role. At 24 during shooting, she would have had to be 19 when she had her daughter, and married at 18. That’s crazy. David O Russell fictionalised a lot of the film, stating he wasn’t looking to make a biopic, but that just makes a lot of it unbelievable to the point where it’s…well, quite frankly, boring. The film crosses the line into fantasy too many times to be grounded in any real emotions. In the end, it just fails to land.

Joy on IMDb

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