Ever since David O. Russell came together with Mark Wahlberg for The Fighter in 2010, the writer/director has crafted one fantastically entertaining film after another. In his third collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence, Joy — loosely based on the life of American inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano — is a film that doesn’t quite live up to the greatness of his previous efforts such as American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook.
Joy serves as somewhat of a more modern Cinderella story. Young Joy, played by Lawrence, has a creative mind and a lingering entrepreneurial spirit that expands throughout the story. Her grandmother Mimi, played by Diane Ladd, mentors her along the way and helps shape her into a confident, strong young woman. Joy is holding her entire family together — four generations all living under one roof — with her own children along with her ex-husband living in the basement with her father. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, or even exaggerated comedy, but the film doesn’t go down that typical path.
Joy’s mother, Terry, played by Virginia Madsen, spends most of her time in her bedroom watching soap operas, seemingly a hopeless romantic searching for satisfaction in her shows. Divorced from her husband Rudy, played by Robert De Niro, she doesn’t have the strong will or determination that her daughter will soon have. Mimi makes sure that Joy doesn’t follow in the footsteps of her mother.
The film really starts to make its point clear when Joy has a vision, seeing the child version of herself, asking what happened to her determination.
“We used to make things, seventeen years ago,” she says to adult Joy. “Then that all stopped, what happened?”
It becomes obvious that the weight of her family has been killing that creative spark in her, and it mirrors a very common struggle most people deal with. Having your dreams, wanting to pursue them, and life getting in the way, slowing you down until the point where you become complacent and comfortable. But thankfully, Joy was shaken out of that frozen state and driven back into her newest idea: a plastic mop with a head made from a continuous loop of 300 feet of cotton.
Joy’s ex-husband Tony, played by Édgar Ramírez, ends up helping her in this endeavor and is one of the more interesting characters in the story. He ends up being a good person in Joy’s life, instead of the antagonistic, jerk ex-lover, allowing for a breath of fresh air in the foundation of the film. Again, something that Russell excels at.
Much like most of Russell’s films, the characters still feel real and authentic. A dysfunctional, flawed family lies at the center of the story, and Russell excels at complicated relationships and real human emotion. Unfortunately, the movie simply does not have quite enough magic to make it as powerful. It is a uniquely crafted “biopic” and does not play by the standard rules, but because of this, the whole thing just ends up being slightly off-kilter.
Joy goes through the regular stumbles and pitfalls anyone goes through while trying to establish a business from the ground up. We see her become stronger and more resilient, desperately trying to hold onto the only thing she has and not let life break her down. Jackie, played by Orange Is the New Black’s Dascha Polanco, is a childhood friend who sticks by her side and aids Joy in her efforts.
Joy’s journey begins to pick up when Tony introduces her to Neil Walker, played by Bradley Cooper, who gives her an opportunity to promote her product on television, which is an opportunity that brings its own pile of troubles and complications as the story unfolds.
But it is a testament to the undying creativity and passion of David O. Russell. Wanting to take the story about the woman who created the miracle mop and attempting to craft a meaningful story about wanting to make something of yourself and achieve your dreams.
“I think my products have been successful because they have mass appeal,” the real life Joy Mangano has said. “I’m just like everybody else out there. I’m a mom, I work, I have a house to clean, things to organize. We all have certain similar needs, and I address them.”
And this is very much the attitude that Lawrence encapsulates throughout the film. Although it is not as invigorating or inspirational as it could have been, Joy still manages to be one of the more satisfying films of the last quarter of 2015.
[Image via 20th Century Fox]