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Joy film review


Directed by David O. Russell

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Bradley Cooper

Who would have thought the story about the creation of the Miracle Mop would be so interesting. Somehow David O. Russell is able to manage it with his biopic about Joy Mangano.

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a struggling single mother who never fulfilled her potential and lives with a very dysfunctional family. Her ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) lives in her basement, her mum Terri (Virginia Madsen) is a slob who spends all day in bed watching soap operas and her half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) who constantly tries to one-up and embarrass Joy at any given opportunity. The only person to believe in Joy is her grandmother (Diane Ladd) who constantly tells Joy she will achieve great things.

As a child Joy had a knack for design and inventing products. Her inventive spark is rekindled after an accident and she comes up with an idea for a hygiene friendly, reusable mop and sets out to make it into a viable business. She has to undergo all the pitfalls of business - finding finance, making a prototype, finding buyers and having to face legal challenges.

Joy marks the third time David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence have worked together - the first two times being Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle: winning an Academy Award for Best Actress and nomination for Best Supporting Actress respectively. It is another great reteaming for them. There is no doubt in Lawrence's talent and as Joy she conveys authority, taking command of business after sacrificing so much for her family. Despite only being 25 Lawrence is perfectly able to act beyond her years and is slowly turning into her generation's Meryl Streep - being an actress who is able to inhabit any role she is given. Like Streep, she could just appear in a prestige picture and the Academy would automatically give Lawrence an Oscar nomination.

Lawrence is surrounded by a great cast, reuniting with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. After a poor series of roles, Russell has reinvigorated De Niro's career, at least when they are working together. He has some great moments of being a complete bastard when he is set off and becoming a very cruel figure to those around him. Cooper is decent enough in his role as a TV executive/product buyer, someone who is gifted at his job and gives Joy a chance to sell her invention; and gets very excited about sales in general. But it is not a role where he gets to stretch himself - Cooper and Russell just wanted to work with each other again.

The rest of the cast is a bit more of a mixed bag. Ladd, Ramírez, Dascha Polanco and Elisabeth Röhm are all strong enough in their roles but Madsen is weak as Joy's mother: a woman who stays in bed all day watching TV and has a fear of men coming into her room. It was pitched for comedy but comes across as inappropriate - leading to dark thoughts about what happened to her and as a character she does not register. The child actors were particularly weak in the film.

Russell attempts to be more visually dynamic then in some of his previous films, taking a slightly more surreal approach. He starts the film with a black-and-white cheesy soap and uses dreams in the framework of the soap to show Joy's inner turmoil - how unfulfilled her life is, and the realisation that she needed to do something about it. The use of dreams and Joy's grandmother's narration were used as alienation devices to ensure the film’s story is not seen as a true account of events. Joy is more visually interesting than Silver Linings Playbook. However most of the film takes place over the Christmas period and implies that it takes place in the space of a few weeks - when in reality the invention of the mop, its development and selling would have taken at least months if not years; it was done to fit the filming schedule more than it was fitting the story. Joy also suffered from having an ending that drags.

Joy's journey is a story about the American Dream and female empowerment. Despite Joy's humble background and lack of resources, she shows that as long as you have a good idea and are willing to put in the work that you can make it in the land of opportunity. Joy keeps getting knocks as she seeks to convince people about the merits of her product, but never gives up. When the project's merits are finally recognised Joy becomes one of its major selling points, being seen as authentic and relatable. Despite Joy's family situation she is made out to be a strong, hands-on woman who has to balance work, motherhood and house management and having an inventive mind. The most positive figure in Joy's life is her grandmother and, despite having a son and a daughter, it's Joy's daughter who is constantly in the background, following her mother through all stages of the business, seeing what her mother is capable of. They are avoiding falling into a vicious cycle of failure.

Family dysfunction in a working class environment has been a recurring theme in Russell's recent movies, particularly The Fighter and Silver Lining Playbook. Even American Hustle had a dysfunction marriage subplot. Joy fits into this motif and Joy is like Micky Ward in The Fighter, someone who is being held back by her family and is loyal to a fault to them. But at least in The Fighter, Ward's family had his best interest at heart while Joy's are either at best indifferent or actually dismissive of the product and her abilities and she has to prove them wrong. When the business grows, some of the family are a hindrance, with her ex-husband being the only person who offers real support and advice.

Like American Hustle, Russell makes a very fictionalised version of a true story, taking the view of not letting specific facts get in the way of a good story. It is clear some elements were added for dramatic tension, like the first demonstration of the mop on TV and how Joy finds out about someone screwing her over.

Joy has not been as well received as some of Russell’s previous films. That seems pretty harsh considering Russell is being more inventive as a director and Lawrence's performance is second-to-none. It is better than the overrated Silver Linings Playbook, having more directional and writing flair.

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