dir. David O Russell
written by: David O Russell, Annie Mumolo
starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Isabella Rossellini, Edgar Rameriz, Dascha Polanco, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd
3 out of 4 stars
Jennifer Lawrence is David O Russell’s favorite actress. Nabbing her for a third go at showcasing America’s “It” girl. Katniss. Mystique. Oscar winner. Three Golden Globes. Some claim her streak is winding down, but that’s a laughable concept. She’s now teamed with Amy Schumer, her brazen partner in crime who are to write their gal-mance into theaters. I don’t blame him for his choice.
Silver Linings Playbook won her an Oscar, ripping it from poor, bedridden Emmanuelle Riva’s fingers and tripping up the stairs to cement her as an adorable badass, and where I love her for the latter, the former may still cause me pain. American Hustle allowed her to showcase some comedy skills, but Joy has finally placed her in the singular lead role, surrounding the actress with all the attention and another Oscar nomination, three for three with Russell. Portraying Joy, based on the inventor of the Miracle Mop Joy Mangano, fits neatly inside Lawrence’s strengths. Juggling motherhood, daughterhood, ex-wifehood, friendhood and entrepreneurhood, all of which are filled with disasters and upheaval, Joy is a woman just trying to make it on her own laurels and support her increasingly trying family. Jennifer Lawrence finds subtle humor in this stressed out woman, and she allows herself to have more strength and enjoyment in this role than she appeared to have in the last two Hunger Games movies. The intensity she holds has mellowed in the best ways since her Silver Lining hysterics, and Lawrence releases her anger and annoyance with intricate valve work. Clearly growing as an actress, Lawrence elevates and controls this movie for its entire run.
David O Russell expanded Annie Mumolo’s (Bridesmaids) and his storyline of a hardworking, working class American inventor and her attempt to rise out of her paycheck to paycheck life. Stumbling through over-involved, scattered family drama for the first third of the movie, the plot takes off after the focus shifts to Joy and her struggles with her invention’s financing and sale. Maintaining far superior drama and more surprising humor than for the subject matter, we see that Russell, consistently strong with his female characters, works magic with his cast.
Her family and friends present particular struggles not only for Joy but also for Joy. Her parents Rudy and Terry, film greats Robert DeNiro and an unrecognizable Virginia Madsen, seem miscast. Nearly a twenty year difference in age, it’s impossible to imagine the pair even forming. The difference in age and demeanor is simply distracting, and the troubled Terry is more distraction than notable addition. Grandmother Mimi, who narrates and featured far too briefly, is an incandescent Diane Ladd, a pure joy in this movie (no pun intended), and ex husband Tony (Edgar Rameriz) is a handsome but unnecessary addition; he should be thankful of the plot points he does receive.
The entities outside of her bloodline feature more heavily in the later two thirds. Stepmother Trudy, performed with a distinct sneer and worldliness by French great Isabella Rossellini, provides financial backing and the best scene of the movie, heavily featured in trailers regarding pre-investment questions. Every scene with her, though few, is engulfed by her film best deliveries. Consistency overrides limited exposure. Russell regular Bradley Cooper takes supporting reigns as the HSN bigwig who brings Joy to televisions. Cooper and Lawrence’s rapport, non romantic for a change, is strong as always. His continuation as a strong serious actor is impressive, and coming off 2014 superstardom in American Sniper and 2015 duds like Aloha and Burnt, Cooper needs something to level him back out. Of particular delight is Joy’s best friend Jackie is Dascha Polanco (Dayanara from Orange is the New Black). Polanco steps away from her well-known role with similar likability but little substance. She is a pleasure to behold though with little weighty material, she supports Joy in all her endeavors and is a fierce defendant for her friend in need.
Certainly not David O Russell’s best film, which is difficult with such fantastic entries as The Fighter and American Hustle in the lineup, Joy possesses a passionately quality that one can tell the director and lead actress have strong passion behind. Lawrence and Rossellini are exceptional, and save that first portion, I maintained surprising interest in the plot. Lawrence’s star is nowhere near falling; if anything, it’s being pulled down to be released slingshot style into deep space.