Joy Movie Review
In the end, a movie about the maker of the Miracle Mop is about as good as you'd expect.
Never mind that Joy is directed by Oscar darling David O'Russell (Silver Lining Playbooks, American Hustle) or stars his favorite actress, Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence. Disregard that O'Russell tries to stretch, pull and embellish Joy Mangano's life story to fit his narrative. Ignore the fact that Jennifer Lawrence delivers another great performance.
In the end, Joy is nothing more than an interesting experiment, a mildly entertaining piece of filmmaking that lacks the substance or narrative cohesiveness to be anything more than that.
For a film that has garnered considerable anticipation and buzz, Joy is a disappointment.
The movie focuses on a dysfunctional family that do their best to inadvertently impede the one shining star among them (not unlike in O'Russell's The Fighter). Lawrence, as the title character, has to deal with her selfish father (Robert De Niro), a soap opera-addicted mother (Virginia Madsen), an ex-husband who still lives in the basement (Edgar Martinez) and others, and all of them have their considerable quirks that make for some enjoyable moments--but not necessarily a synergistic movie.
Joy is largely an entertaining affair, but it is very much a film that thrives on succeeding scene by scene, minute by minute, without much regard for everything fitting together. The result is an uneven film that never really kicks into gear, two hours of setup scenes that don't do a whole lot to establish why we should care about the story or how Joy Mangano transformed from a struggling divorcee into a powerful businesswoman and inventor.
There is a story to be told, an interesting angle that could have been taken, but O'Russell simply fails where he has succeeded in the past. Joy relies too heavily on gimmicks--narration by Joy's grandmother for no reason in particular, dream sequences because why not, and other creative experiments that don't do the narrative many favors--when it would have worked better had O'Russell taken a more standard approach to the story and its characters.
Even with its shortcomings, Joy could have been more effective with a strong third act, but O'Russell just never steps it up. Joy's transformation is never seen on screen; the movie literally jumps from one scene where she gets absolutely destroyed by her family to one where she is suddenly a badass who has her shit together. The payoff doesn't have the effect intended because this “new” Joy comes out of nowhere, and we don't even get to see her lay down the law on her dad or awful half-sister.
Joy is an interesting film, but not a very honest one. It wants to an artistic masterpiece, but in the end it is just a collection of scenes sloppily taped together. If Joy Mangano is anything like her on-screen counterpart, I doubt she would approve.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.