An interesting premise that stalls upon execution. Saved from complete dreck by Lawrence’s amazing performance. Grade: C-
Just when you thought David O. Russell was getting better and better? He delivers Joy, a film that proves you can take an interesting true story and turn it into a wobbly, scattered mess. Based on the real-life entrepreneur Joy Mangano, the creator of the Miracle Mop, Huggable Hangers, and a slew of stuff you never knew you desperately needed ’til you saw them. (Note: I am a Mangano gal that has nothing but HSN Huggables in all my closets. What? They were a bargain, the one-color look make my closets seem organized, and they’re fuzzy.)
However, Russell takes that real-life story and uses it as a launching pad to create a cast of weirdos that are supposed to be funny, but always seem to come up as one step away from earning their very own off-white jackets with hug-yourself sleeves. It’s a waste of good talent — Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen, and Isabella Rossellini are either bipolar, agoraphobic and depressive, or borderline manic. It’s not fun to watch these characters, its more like the DSM Parade. Lawrence’s Russell-buddy Bradley Cooper plays QVC honcho Neil, and his performance is so wooden I had to check if his characters name was Pinocchio.
The only bright moments in this film are when Lawrence is allowed to shuck the confines of Russell’s crazypants story and simply inhabit her character. Her scenes with Joy’s BFF Jackie (Orange is the New Black‘s Dascha Polanco) and Grandma Mimi (Diane Ladd, who also serves as the film’s narrator) are studies in pain, exhaustion and hopelessness. Joy understands that there is more to life, but can’t seem to figure out how to get beyond where she is now.
I have an idea. May I suggest kicking those horrible family members to the curb? Joy’s father (De Niro) is a no-account narcissistic drifter, her mother (Madsen) can’t be bothered to do anything but lie in bed and watch “her stories” like a distant relative of Charlie Bucket, and sister Peggy (an almost unrecognizable Elisabeth Röhm) is a mean-spirited harpy who hates her sister’s success. They even sue her for control of her company once Joy gets it up and running. These whiny, clueless characters are no fun to watch onscreen, and any semblance of comedy falls flat. It’s a crap life when your ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) the only one who’s got your back. Which is probably why those scenes between Lawrence and Polanco are particularly moving. Sure, Lawrence’s performance is excellent as always [NOTE: and has been nominated for a Golden Globe], but damn if those scenes don’t get an extra boost for simply pulling us away from her no-account family who seem to be crazy for no reason beyond Russell’s need for “colorful” characters. Ugh.
By the time Joy gets her shot at QVC fame and fortune, I had already had enough. I was imagining what this movie would have been like had it only had the scenes with Joy, Jackie and Grandma Mimi. It’d have been a helluva lot more compelling, that’s for sure.
The IMDb description of this film is “Joy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.” Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? A multi-generational story that shows love, loss and success? Sadly, Joy doesn’t quite deliver on it’s promise.