Reviewed by Mitch Burns
Directed by: David O. Russel
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Dianne Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Elisabeth Rohm, and Isabella Rossellini.
David O. Russel released I Heart Huckabees in 2004, took a 6 year break, and came back with The Fighter (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013), all three of which garnered much awards attention, and were loved by me. Joy is certainly hoping for the same success, but beyond nominations for Russel’s muse Jennifer Lawrence, I don’t think the film has a chance.
Joy is based on the true story of Joy Mangano, who invented the worlds first self wringing mop, or the Miracle Mop, in the early 90’s. Before Joy invents the Miracle Mop, or the beginning of the film, she is a divorced mother of two, living under the same roof as her Agoraphobic mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), father Rudy (Robert De Niro) a hopeless romantic who owns an auto-body shop, her out-of-work ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez), grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), her daughter and her (suspiciously always off screen) son.
The story follows Joy as she invents the first self wringing mop, tries to get her fathers new girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) to invest money so she can make the mop, and once it’s made, trying to sell it. The selling portion of the film leads her to QVC where she meets Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) who gives her mop the chance it needs.
I’m not sure if the story of Joy Mangano was a story that really needed to be told, While it’s slightly interesting we’ve really most of this before. We’re in a time when we need strong female protagonists and they are welcomed with open arms, but sadly Joy just isn’t a movie I can wholeheartedly champion.
Joy opens with a fake Soap Opera called “The Joyful Storm” starring actual Soap Opera stars such as Susan Lucci, as Joy’s agoraphobic mother loves her soaps. Russel was trying something here but I’m not sure it’s such a good idea to make such close comparisons of your movie to a Soap Opera, and it doesn’t add anything to the story. Immediately after that illogical opening we go to Joy as a child while her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) narrates, she states “This is the story of Joy, as told by me, her grandmother”. That statement alone doesn’t make sense, at all, for reasons that could be considered a spoiler, so I won’t say them here.
The first half an hour is amateurish at best, it attempts to give you a feel for Joy’s family life, it’s too chaotic and fast paced but mundane at the same time. Joy’s mother (Virginia Madsen) and half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm) are not real people and they take away from the authenticity of the story. Add to all of this Russel’s insistent need to layer every single frame with overbearing music and score, I found myself checking out very early.
It becomes a bit interesting once Joy begins to try and sell the mop, especially once she brings it to the QVC, where she tries to sell it on TV, and meets Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) who helps give her the break she needs. Bradley Cooper doesn’t do anything special here, his character is absurd, and was intentionally written that way, he’s full of cliche’s and showy lines, but leaves no lasting impression on viewers.
The only actor who walks away from this movie and deserves any recognition is Lawrence. DeNiro and Virginia Madsen are fine, Isabella Rossellini’s acting feels stilted and forced, Diane Ladd isn’t given anything to do, and the little girl playing the daughter was distractingly bad. Melissa Rivers pops up playing her mother, Joan Rivers, and it’s quite great.
Joy ends up feeling like a sad imitation of a David O. Russel movie, there are so many ideas and emotions floating around that everything ends up a chaotic, disorganized mess. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance almost saves it all, it shows that even when she’s given a bad script she can still reign superior in her mighty throne. All hail Queen Lawrence.
Close to the end of the film there is a solid 20 minutes, probably the only parts of the movie I would call “Great”. No surprise These moments rely heavily on Lawrence’s acting abilities, and it makes me wonder if Russell was more excited to cast Jennifer Lawrence in the role than actually tell a good story.
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