There are a couple things we know about director David O. Russell. He’s fuelled by dysfunction, and, more recently, the talents of Jennifer Lawrence.
Dysfunction has been in his storytelling (likely) all his life. Sometimes his stories have been hits (“Flirting with Disaster”) and other times misses (“I Heart Huckabees”). But now with the addition of Lawrence, even if he’s off the mark, the effort is still a worthwhile experience.
“Joy” is not Russell at his finest. But teaming with Lawrence for the third consecutive time (previously “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”), he gives the story completely over to his lead’s abilities — and it saves the movie.
Lawrence plays the real-life Joy Mangano, a divorcee who still lives with her ex (Édgar Ramírez) and their two kids, along with her mother (Virginia Madsen), grandmother (Diane Ladd), and father (Robert De Niro). Barely able to make ends meet, she’s also faced with solving the problems of everyone under her roof.
Always inventing things since she was a child, Joy grabs onto that million-dollar idea every inventor dreams of. While mopping up broken glass and cutting up her hands wringing it out, she comes up with the revolutionary “Miracle Mop.” It would become one of the biggest hits on the newly created QVC channel (run by Neil, played matter-of-factly by Bradley Cooper).
Family turmoil continues, Joy gets hustled by her manufacturer, and basically Joy can’t catch a break until she fights back, and that’s when Lawrence shines.
From insisting on wearing a casual white blouse and slacks on QVC (instead of a dress) to a Michael Corleone-like showdown with her half-sister, Lawrence plays Joy as a headstrong woman who has vowed not to end up like her mother, watching soap operas all day in bed.
“Joy” is not a true biopic, as once Russell got involved in the project he reworked the script heavily and combined many female entrepreneur rags-to-riches stories into his Joy. But that’s standard operating procedure for Russell.
Though the cast is great on paper and Russell has been successful with recent ensembles, outside of some strong scenes between Lawrence and De Niro, there are few highlights for the whole group.
Then again, this was always Lawrence’s show. “Joy” is as much a movie about the actress standing her ground in the Hollywood system that regards women as second-class as it is a look at a female entrepreneur taking on the world.
“Joy” opens in theatres everywhere on Christmas Day.
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