David O. Russell’s latest may feel like a significant downshift from his previous three successes (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle), but with Jennifer Lawrence commanding the screen front-and-center, Joy still does enough to justify its existence.
The film follows Joy Mangano, a divorced mother-of-two who strikes it big – after her fair of setbacks, mind – when she invents the Miracle Mop and captures the imaginations of housewives all over the U.S. However, her relationships with her father (Robert De Niro), mother (Virginia Madsen), ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) and boss (Bradley Cooper) only make her life more animated and, in most cases, difficult.
One thing audiences might end up asking themselves several times throughout this movie is – why should we care about this woman and her life story? Along with the movie’s marketing, Joy seems vaguely embarrassed that it’s a film about the “Miracle Mop woman”, and though it encompasses the larger scope of the woman’s life – often through surreal, if fairly uninteresting, asides and lazy voice-over narration – its strength is in realising Joy as an iron-willed (though not really very independent) woman refusing to flounder in a man’s world.
Even if there’s the distinct feeling that Russell has thrown scenes of Joy firing guns into the drama to cut a more interesting trailer, there’s an inherent hilarity to the underhanded business that goes on when manufacturing a $20 mop of all things, though Russell could probably have played more on the satirical side.
Lawrence and her castmates do well with the fairly inconsistent material they’ve got, even if nobody’s really stretching themselves here and it’d be tough to imagine many people showing interest in the script without Russell having such loyal and famous friends. It’s certainly worth a viewing, but in terms of the talent and its prime-time place in the awards season, it does feel a little undercooked. You probably won’t remember much of it come Oscar time, and Lawrence will frankly be lucky to end up in the Best Actress line-up, because it’s hardly a particularly remarkable role for her.
Undeniably disappointing but solidly watchable all the same, Joy ends Russell’s rather inexplicable run of Academy darling movies, and frankly, it’d be refreshing to see him changing-up his cast next time.
Joy is in US cinemas Christmas Day and UK cinemas January 1st