Arts Review, Movies
David O. Russell, director & script
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy Mangano), Robert De Niro (Rudy Mangano), Bradley Cooper (Neil Walker), Edgar Ramirez (Tony),
Dianne Ladd (Mimi, Joy’s grandmother), Virginia Madsen (Terry, Joy’s mother), Isabella Rossellini (Trudy), Elisabeth Rohm (Peggy)
There is no such thing as a sure bet unless someone is cheating. And you don’t cheat when you’re dealing with culture. How can you? Still, the advance thinking on Joy, David O. Russell’s third film in a row with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro (admittedly De Niro only had an un-credited but powerful scene in American Hustle), was surely that it was going to be a hit. And maybe it will be. But it certainly won’t match the critical success of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.
In both of those films, Russell achieved the improbable, meshing disparate storylines and acting styles into a creative whole. Here he has tried to whip up a similar recipe but this time the soufflé got stuck in the pan. He’s ended up with a tasty omelette filled with good ingredients. But it doesn’t rise up to the heights one hoped for and anticipated.
Russell’s quirky premise is to tell the rags to riches tale of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), the creator of the Miracle Mop. A working class girl, who takes care of her divorced parents (De Niro’s philandering auto parts dealer and Virginia Madsen’s bedridden soap opera watcher) and her own two kids, Joy has an aha! moment when she instantly creates the best! ever! mop using her daughter’s crayons to sketch out the idea.
Emerging from chaotic conditions, Joy manages to meet Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), an exec at QVC (the Home Shopping Network), who guides her to get the product on the air. After much drama, Joy does triumph—in the film’s best scene—by overcoming her nerves and simply telling the TV audience how hard it is to keep a place clean while raising kids as a single mom. No surprise: Joy suddenly had orders for hundreds of thousands of her mop.
With the mop a hit, the film seems on its way to a happy ending. But Joy’s labours aren’t at an end. She has to battle her manufacturer, who tries to take her business away from her. And, quite frankly, it’s in these extended scenes when Russell loses the flow of the narrative. Though Joy eventually gets back the rights to her mop (the real Ms. Mangano is one of the film’s exec producers), the film loses its way.
One begins to wonder: is Joy intended to be a quirky comedy about life in a dysfunctional family or a drama about an inventive woman who believes in the American Way—and pulls it off? American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook also wrestled with issues of comedy and tragedy but those films were able to keep both genres in balance. Here, we can see all the elements of the story—and they don’t mesh.
Joy is filled with fine performances. Jennifer Lawrence, who is the outstanding thespian talent of her generation, is brilliant as Joy–a force of nature, who never quits as a mother, an inventor and someone who will battle anyone for what’s right. So is De Niro as a not-so-great but loving dad; Dianne Ladd as Joy’s inspiration, her grandmother; and Isabella Rossellini as Trudy, Joy’s financier.
Then there’s Bradley Cooper. He plays a supporting role in this film—an exec who helps out Joy. Every time Lawrence and Cooper are in a scene together, your attention is riveted. The two should be playing as a couple as they did so effectively in Silver Linings Playbook. Russell may be too much of an auteur to do the obvious and pair the two together but I hope someone less talented and inventive does it.
There would be joy: that’s my prediction.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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