Saturated in controversy over the years, David O. Russell has not been a fun name to hear beyond his direction with his attitude infamously heating up his stars to nearly hit him in the jaw on set – cough cough George Clooney – but the man gets the best from his actors, and J-Law is his muse. Joy is a quirky biopic that borrows styles that remind us of Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson at their weirdest. It centers around Joy Mangano, a working woman from New York who tends to her family like a babysitter while trying to use her God-given skills to better use. When she finally realizes she has a million dollar idea, the world changed, almost as often as the scenes of the film.
What starts off as a whimsical origin of a young girl with a bright imagination and a troubling family life, the film chronicles the men and women that helped her as well as dampen her ideas to create what is now used across America, the self wringing mop. Lawrence’s co-stars include two Silver Linings Playbook staples and they are Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro. Also starring are Edgar Ramirez, Dascha Polanco, and Diane Ladd. Through successful narrations through the beginning to take us into the not so joyous world Joy, a whirlwind of events help shape the self made millionaire into the woman she has become today, and Jennifer Lawrence is the reason this film succeeds in any way.
Russell, like most directors, is definitely an acquired taste. Often heralded for his vision and direction and ability to get the best from his actors, he often comes off as pretentious in his style of film making, and though that may ring true for Joy there is much to love about the off road biopic. With the use of bright white rooms to bring a more surreal feel to the settings, their pure white walls parallel a serious irony to the lack of pureness in the characters around Joy beyond her own kids. To really get a feel for Joy as a character, you have to look around at all the unlikable characters that loom around her like a black cloud. Constantly looking after a family who rely mainly on her to help them makes her journey all the more impressive. The fear and depressing outcomes of her troubled life hit home for anyone with a dream and people around that don’t take you seriously, and while feminists will likely love the films messages and female lead, this doesn’t come off as preachy as you may have read prior to this.
Not once do I consider the fact that she is this “feminist symbol”, instead I think of Jennifer Lawrence as a brilliant inventor who managed to dig herself out of a hole as a parent and daughter of grown people who had more issues than she did. Lawrence is exceptional due to her subtle but emotional performance comparatively to her other roles. She is a woman on a mission that we can fully understand as her journey commences for two hours, and every time she is on the screen you can’t help but admire. Businesses are always cutthroat and inventors have to find a way to stop the hemorrhaging from getting any worse and when we get to see Joy patch up those bleeding moments are when Lawrence is at her finest.
Where the film is lesser than O. Russell’s past films are it’s obscure narrative. What Russell has been so good at is bringing a humorous reality to the screen whether it be in Silver Lining’s Playbook, The Fighter, or the award nominated American Hustle, but what we get for Joy is far more of a departure from his regular fair and shows the director wants to broaden his craft as a film maker in a fluid Hollywood. Though it worked enough for me, viewers may be discourage from the somewhat bizarre take on the depiction of her life where moments in time feel like dream sequences and nightmares with exaggerated characters giving exaggerated emotions towards our leading lady.
Joy is a film more dedicated film goers can tolerate and enjoy, but for those hoping for a straight edged dramedy starring Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro, you may come out disappointed, but the film is fun and sometimes riveting and exciting once you see the genesis of her ideas and what she does to try to make these ideas come to fruition. The acting is great as usual from an already proven cast of actors and the direction differs from O. Russell’s usual style but serves as a turning point for his style of film making. It will make you want to invent as well as avoid those annoying relatives as often as you can while still devoting your time and effort to what is truly important.
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