“Joy” Movie Review


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     No one would feel sorry for director David O. Russell given the position he now finds himself in year after year.  The filmmaker has been on quite a hot streak which began with 2010’s “The Fighter”, and continued with 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook” and 2013’s “American Hustle”, each garnering plenty of awards attention while setting a high standard and expectation for his work going forward.  Russell has, more or less, delivered another high level outing with “Joy”, a dramatization of Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop, and her struggles with both her family life and the harsh and often cruel realities of the business world.  Russell tabs his “Playbook” and “Hustle” ace, Jennifer Lawrence, to play Joy, resulting in what just may be a third Oscar nomination for Lawrence under Russell’s direction.  Put simply, Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant in the role, exhibiting the kind of range in playing a character that will soon put her participation in “The Hunger Games” franchise in the distant rear view mirror.

     Russell’s screenplay, based on a story by himself and Annie Mumolo (“Bridesmaids”), moves briskly from one dramatic element to another as the story continually shifts gears in order to give  meaningful screen time to every complication in Joy’s life of which there are several.  She owns a rickety older home in small town late 1980s New York, which seems to be falling apart from within.  She has two young children to care for, but also her mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), who lives in a first floor bedroom and spends her days watching soap operas and seemingly never leaves her self described “nest”.  Her ex-husband and father of her two children, Tony (Edgar Ramirez), lives in the basement as he continues to pursue a singing career.  Her grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd), who also serves as the film’s narrator, lives upstairs and functions as the one person in Joy’s life who helps keep her mentally afloat with much needed encouragement.  And then the doorbell rings and there stands her father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), apparently kicked out of the home he lived in with a girlfriend and now demanding to again live with Joy until he can find another woman to love (and take care of him).  Of course, this dynamic is destined to fail since Rudy was once married to Terry and the two don’t get along, plus Rudy and Tony also can’t stand each other, making their sharing of the basement contentious at best.

     This is all visualized on screen by Russell during the first act as we see a woman who is near her breaking point.  Joy works at a dead end job for a small local airline and is constantly tormented by her older half sister, Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), who serves as the person who has everything figured out for everyone else, while ignoring her own shortcomings.  Russell’s story brings us to the point where Joy is at a crossroads and begins to wear down with all that seemingly revolves around her.  Not to mention the enormous financial burdens she endures that make it difficult to give her family the kind of life she believes they deserve.  The central moment in the film has Joy utilizing her daughter’s crayons and construction paper to draw what would become the original blueprints for a new mop that would allow users to wring it out without touching the mop head and having the ability to wash it in a washing machine before the next use.  Clearly, Joy is a driven individual who gets an idea in her head and lets nothing stop her from turning that idea into reality.  She knows, given her financial situation, that she must succeed because she is the only person her family can depend on.

     Rudy has since fallen in love with a wealthy Italian widow named Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), who Joy approaches for an investment in her new invention as she looks to produce the mops on a large scale and have them sold by local retailers.  The middle act of Russell’s film is dedicated to the highs and lows of the business world of which Joy experiences first hand.  Squabbles with both the plastic manufacturer located in California, as well as both her father and sister who meddle in her business, citing their vast knowledge in these kinds of dealings, leads to numerous set backs.  But it is clear from the beginning, and especially the manner of which Lawrence plays the character, that Joy possesses the right stuff to succeed.  This is demonstrated best in her initial contact with fictional QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), who carefully combs through a litany of products and deciphers which are to be featured and sold on his network.  One of the film’s hallmark sequences has Joy under the bright lights of the QVC studio peddling the Miracle Mop herself in a way that comes across as genuine and heartfelt, setting the stage for her to become a rousing overnight success story who would go on to secure over 100 patents and sell millions of products.  The scenes Russell stages in a late 1980s QVC, still in its infancy, are akin to walking into the sales and television equivalent of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”  The sets and those who occupy them have a unique whimsical quality about them, creating a welcome sense of nostalgia.  Contributing greatly to this was the decision to have Melissa Rivers portray her mother, Joan, as a key pitch person on the studio’s jewelry stage.

     As a starring vehicle for Lawrence, “Joy” contains all of the necessary ingredients for her to create a multilayered character of whom we will both admire and respect for her willingness to succeed, despite the odds.  And this is person who remembers where she came from, as is indicated in a scene late in the film where she recalls being the one sitting in the chair across from the ones in power and who have the ability to make or break her family’s future.  Sure, we have seen a number of these stories over the years, as it is a popular basis of creating an inspiring story, but Lawrence’s performance, and those that support her, particularly Cooper, De Niro, and Dascha Polanco, who portrays her best friend Jackie, put the film on a significantly higher level.  Russell’s script, combined with a colorful late 80s production design that includes a nifty, yet bland, fictional television show which has Terry glued to the television set in nearly every scene, pops with an attractive mix of colorful characters and larger than life moments that were paramount in Joy’s life.  And though the film may not ultimately reach the filmmaker’s lofty standards, it is a bit disjointed at times, “Joy” still achieves the same crowd pleasing effect of his previous work.  GRADE: B