Joy presents Jennifer Lawrence with her meatiest role since Ree in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, which fast-tracked her rise to one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses. With some of the lighter roles she’s taken on in recent years it’s easy to forget how effortlessly she can carry a film. Her presence alone saves David O. Russell’s Joy from certain disappointment. As it stands it’s a passable comedy/drama that shines when it’s immersed in the business side of things and cringe-inducing when dealing with Joy’s cartoony family.
It’s the late 70’s/early 80’s and Joy (Lawrence) is not happy with her life. For starters, nearly her entire family lives under the same roof, including her divorced parents, Rudy (De Niro) and Carrie (Madsen), and her ex, Tony (Ramirez). She’s juggling two kids and just can’t seem to get ahead. After cutting her hands while wringing out a glass-filled mop on her father’s new girlfriend’s (Rossellini) boat, Joy has an ingenious idea: a self-wringing, machine-washable mop that can be billed as the only mop you’ll ever need. She begins prototyping a model, but struggles to get it off the ground after going into deep debt and dealing with constant rejection. It’s not until she pitches the mop herself that an enterprise is launched.
The first forty-five minutes of Joy do not inspire much confidence. Russell focuses entirely on Joy’s annoying and mostly shrill family, led by her mother, who’s supposed to be funny because she watches soap operas all day and has glasses that practically need windshield wipers. There’s even recurring sappy voiceover by Joy’s grandmother. It’s not until Joy meets an executive (Cooper) at the newly-launched QVC Network that things really take off. Russell’s handling of the uphill business battle Joy faces as she launches the mop is outstanding, including a flawless scene during which Joy takes over the marketing on-air.
Lawrence is typically outstanding, giving the film the solid ground it desperately needs. She’s very relatable in her portrayal as a working-class woman with big ideas hoping to improve her family’s life. She’s given plenty of chances to shine, especially when it comes time to deal with some dishonest businessmen who’ve taken advantage of her idea. Bradley Cooper is excellent as the initially dismissive executive who’s won over by Joy’s fierceness and determination to sell the mop. Russell refreshingly lays off a soapy romance between the two. Robert De Niro does what De Niro now does these days, which is play a zinging, grumpy father figure. He earns a few laughs.
Joy is perfectly breezy holiday fare, with a heroine worth rooting for and a warmness for the history it’s depicting. Russell still can’t resist injecting American Hustle-esque caricatures of the time, which grow grating in a hurry and get the film off to a sluggish start. Fortunately he begins taking the journey as seriously as Joy herself did, resulting in a the second half that is engaging and effective. Joy doesn’t resonate as a hard-hitting, memorable biography, but as a lightweight, ultimately charming slice of entrepreneurial spirit, it works.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Length: 124 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Theatrical Release: December 25, 2015
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell. Story by Russell & Annie Mumolo.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rossellini