10 January 2016 | bkrauser-81-311064
Decent Half a Movie
Joy is a fine half a film. The performances all-around are strong, the story is uncommon enough to grab your attention, and keep you invested, and the direction is solid. With all that in mind, Joy still feels like a shallow version of what could have been. There is a reason why all the movie's Oscar buzz has all but dissipated in every category except a courtesy nod to Jennifer Lawrence as Best Actress; Why? You should read on.
Lawrence plays the titular character, a mother of two with a very complicated home life. Though divorced, her ex-husband (Ramirez) lives in the basement waiting for his singing career to take off. Though she has decidedly negative relationships with her parents, her shut-in mother (Madsen) lives with her and her father (De Niro) is a serial divorcée with a struggling auto repair shop. It's also the 1980's and she works the night shift for an Airline that's dramatically cutting back hours; yikes. The only thing she has going for her is she likes to tinker and has the work ethic to see a good idea through. So when she has a eureka moment after a failed excursion on her father's new girlfriend's boat, she quickly invents a household object that may just be her ticket out of systemic poverty.
I don't think I'm giving much away by saying the movie asks its audience to hinge their emotional cache on a mop. The self-wringing Miracle Mop to be exact, invented by honest-to-God real person Joy Mangano. Leave it to director David O. Russell to find a decent story in the life of a QVC luminary and keep it just this side of rational. The prologue of the film lovingly dedicates the movie to "daring women," which Joy certainly is but Russell wisely omits the last name to give the audience a universality. This too can be your story of success if you have grit and a good idea. It's a great theme sadly worth a much better movie.
Part of the problem is the pace. There are long stretches of improvisations that carry absolutely no emotional weight. Unlike American Hustle (2013) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) where the rushed, overlapping dialogue and melodramatic mugging serves to highlight the immediacy of, say dealing with the mob, here there's nothing holding us to the characters and their goals...except Joy. Russell seems to be aware of his own style and juxtaposes the lives on screen with an 80's era soap opera which consumes the life of Joy's mother. The parallel is interesting in theory but the results deflate the proceedings.
Not usually the voice of hope, I really wanted to like this movie. A movie about the positives of hard work and entrepreneurship has not hit theaters since Pursuit of Happyiness (2006). Yet out of all modern directors working today, David O. Russell feels like a quixotic mouthpiece for such a hopeful theme. His movies always have an unabashed pessimism about human nature that undermines his characters with an almost Bunuelian sense of treachery. Even as far back as his Three Kings (1999) days there was a mercurial, bittersweet undercurrent to his work. Joy bares disappointment after disappointment to a breaking point most protagonists of this genre would buckle under. Then, as if to put a band-aid on an open gash, the movie ends with an epilogue that's pat to the point of flimflam.