Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief Strong Language
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Rohm, Virginia Madsen & Isabella Rossellini
A biopic about Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop, may not exactly sound like an exciting film. However, one only needs to look at the cast to realize that this potential flop actually has a lot of talent behind it, including one of the best modern filmmakers working today. While JOY may not quite be up to the standards of David O. Russell’s recent hits (paling in comparison to AMERICAN HUSTLE and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK), it’s an underdog story that’s bound to compel, entertain and reward. Taken strictly as an emotional and stylized drama, JOY is a worthwhile viewing experience.
New York, 1989. Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) is struggling through her day-to-day life as a divorced mother and working a stressful dead-end job. Joy’s family members only add to her frustrations as her mother (Virginia Madsen) is an agoraphobic mess, her father (Robert De Niro) is a constantly angry individual, and her half-sister (Elisabeth Rohm) is always finding new ways to downgrade Joy’s life. After taking years of crap, cleaning up after her relatives, and being the sole bread-winner, Joy is struck with inspiration and invents the miracle mop! However, putting a product out on the market is harder than it seems. Patents must be filed. Outlets must be acquired. Legal issues must be crushed. The cutthroat world of business provides new challenges for Joy, but she’s been overcoming obstacles her entire life.
The best thing about JOY is Jennifer Lawrence’s strong performance. In a cast where nearly everybody is playing an unlikable asshole, Lawrence’s Joy stands out as a rational, sane and determined individual. In every scene, Lawrence’s titular character is always determined to get on top of things and her line delivery can make the most mundane conversation seem intimidating. The only other slightly enjoyable characters come in Bradley Cooper as a tv exec friend in commerce and Edgar Ramirez as the best ex-husband you’ve ever seen. One character even comments on how Joy and her ex get along much better without their pesky marriage between them.
As I already mentioned though, damn near every remaining character comes off as annoying to one degree or another. Almost every member of Joy’s family is emotionally abusive and underhandedly passive-aggressive. The most frustrating character is easily Isabella Rossellini as Joy’s step-mother, who takes an interest in the miracle mop, but also seems to revel in lording her finances over the struggling Joy’s head. That’s not to say that Robert De Niro’s over-the-top neglectful father, Virginia Madsen’s comically reclusive mother, or Elisabeth Rohm’s vindictive half-sister are much better, because these characters almost seem cartoony in their abusive nature. They slightly take the viewer out of the semi-realistic vibe of this semi-biographical movie.
Director/writer David O. Russell has described JOY as being unlike the rest of his films. That’s very evident in its stylish execution. Russell employs dream sequences, various storytelling techniques, and over-the-top visual flourishes. These can be a bit pretentious, especially in a recurring nightmare about Joy being stuck in a TV soap opera and voice-over narration from her grandmother, but these touches add to the overall emotions of the main character’s journey. JOY truly shines in its portrayal of the cruel, unforgiving world of business. Opportunities, backstabbings, and legal difficulties arise as Joy’s miracle mop becomes successful. Each new challenge is frustrating, but it’s satisfying to watch Joy use her head and ingenuity to overcome each of them.
JOY is good entertainment, but not without noticeable flaws. Only the titular protagonist and two side characters are remotely likable, while everyone else grates on the nerves. Those problems might be chalked up to the script, because the actors seem to be giving it their all. The film’s stylistic touches are fun, but can be pretentious and silly. Those damn soap opera nightmares are just too much and the narration seems like it should be coming from Joy, instead of her grandmother. Even with these annoyances, I am glad that I watched this movie. As a drama about the woman who invented the miracle mop, JOY is surprisingly satisfying.