Joy

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Bradley Cooper

Director: David O. Russell

Writer: David O. Russell


The movie opens with a dedication to “daring women everywhere”. Through the character of Joy (no surname) the film aspires to capture the voice of those women all over the world who dare to be more than others have said they can be. This film is made for the working mothers who have to work themselves to the bone every day to get by. It is for the women who possess talent, ideas and potential but have been held back by their circumstances and commitments. This film is for the women who have had to fight for their victories against the constraints placed upon them by an inequitable patriarchal system. These women have voices that demand and deserve to be heard and I admire this film for speaking out for them and for delivering a message about the value of determination and hard work. I just wish it were a better film.

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a divorced working mother of two trying to provide for herself and her entire family. This includes her reclusive mother Terry (Virginia Madsen) who spends her days watching melodramatic soap operas, her father Rudy (Robert de Niro) who has returned home following an unsuccessful third marriage, and her ex-husband Tony (Édgar Ramírez) who still plans on making it big with his singing. Joy herself has always dreamed of applying her creativity as an inventor but had to abandon that ambition to focus on her commitments. Nevertheless her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) has always maintained that Joy has the potential to become a strong, successful woman. When Joy is inspired one day to create a self-wringing mop, she decides to follow her idea through and market her new invention. In her endeavour however she is met with numerous adversities that threaten to stop her from achieving her dream and finally realising her full potential.

In her third collaboration with David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence drives this film single-handedly as the indomitable Joy and gives what is by all means a good performance. Her character is determined, strong-willed and smart and Lawrence portrays these qualities with both humour and conviction. Over the course of this film I was definitely rooting for her and I felt for her every time one of the adversities she faced beat her down. I’m not convinced that Lawrence deserves all of the awards attention she has been getting but it is nevertheless a decent performance. The rest of the cast however were not so great. The one-dimensional characters that surround Joy seem to have been deliberately shaped into the most implausibly unlikeable people possible in order to make her situation that much worse. They include the overly-pathetic mother, the overly-contemptible father with his overly-insufferable girlfriend, and the overly-disdainful sister. I know that they’re supposed to be awful characters but it’s a wonder that Joy puts up with any of them. Bradley Cooper as well is completely wasted in his role as a television marketing executive who helps Joy gain some exposure for her creation. The only pleasant surprise for me was the ex-husband who turned out not to be the total loser that the film built him up to be.

I’ve found that there are some people who were thrown off when they realised that the dramatic crux of this movie was the selling of a mop. However if a film like Bicycle Thieves can build its drama around a bicycle then Joy can certainly do the same with a mop. I think the reason the film lost me in the end was because the concept felt a little too familiar and the story as a whole just felt pretty haphazard. The movie’s pacing was all over the place, especially in those parts where the film cut over to those segments of Terry’s ridiculous soap opera. Those scenes, while funny, just felt unnecessary. Joy’s journey as a character is fine for the most part but still feels pretty tired. It seems like Russell is trying to tell this story in a new way but for all his style and skill I think the emotional weight got lost somewhere.

I like the message that this film is trying to tell and I like that it assumes the voice of a group that doesn’t get heard often enough. The result of Russell’s efforts is a pretty decent film but lacks the fire or resolve of Joy’s character. I think perhaps because Russell stylised the film more than it needed to be, the story lost its plausibility and therefore much of my investment. I was invested enough to follow Joy to the end but I didn’t receive any sort of emotional reward from the film’s climax. I was left feeling pretty indifferent to the film’s resolution and haven’t thought much about it since. All in all the film is fine. It has a good central performance and some enjoyable moments but is all based around a story that I found to be quite unfulfilling.

★★★

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