Joy Lead Jennifer Lawrence

Joy movie review

In a nutshell: Joy is a balancing act incorporating many elements that largely succeeds due to Jennifer Lawrence’s mesmerising lead performance as a single mother cum inventor and entrepreneur.

Joy features:: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rosselini, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Dascha Polanco
Director: David O. Russell
Writers: David O. Russell, Annie Mumolo

Australian release date: 26 December 2015

Reviewer: rolanstein

Pitching this movie must have been a challenge: “It’s inspired by a true story about a woman who builds a business empire out of a wring-mop she invents. You’re gonna love it.”

But of course, Joy is about much more than that (a little too much more). Like the search for self and the fight for self-realisation. Like believing in a dream, staking everything on making it happen and persisting whatever the obstacles. The value of friendship. The weird paradoxes and discordant mix of values within families. Leadership. Capitalism and its dualities. The art of advertising and promotion. Greed, jealousy, treachery and betrayal. The healing power and heroic nature of unconditional loyalty…

It’s quite a feat to incorporate all this in the mix and end up with a coherent film. While there’s a uneasy sense at times that the train could come off the rails, director David O. Russell manages to maintain control, largely due to Jennifer Lawrence’s incandescent performance as Joy, single mother cum inventor and entrepreneur. Lawrence is the constant that binds the piece together. She takes up most of the screen time and just about everything happens around or because of her character. In training the spotlight on her throughout, Russell has asked a lot of her, in effect placing the fate of the film in her hands. She delivers. Her character breathes, is complex and multi-dimensional, and seems real. Thus, we care about her, and are fascinated by her and the story of her transformation from struggling suburban mum to corporate success, all arising from an a-ha moment when she cuts her hands on broken glass while wringing out a mop.

It’s not so much her rise to success that is enthralling; rather, it is her handling of the network of relationships she must negotiate on the way, most notably those within her dysfunctional family: a vain, selfish father (Robert De Niro) with an anger management problem and a new love interest (Isabella Rossellini) who – significantly – is loaded, a mother secreted away in retreat in her bedroom watching daytime soapies, a jealous sister, an ex-husband who lives in her basement. Joy’s ballast is her grandmother (Diane Ladd, also the voice-over narrator), a sage matriarch who understands her qualities and is her mentor and guiding light.

Bradley Cooper plays the head honcho of a TV marketing company who generously gives Joy a couple of minutes air time to spruik her mop. Key to her success, he also becomes a friend. Their initially unlikely friendship is an oasis of humanity in a desert of crass commercialism and a business milieu full of minefields and predators. It’s a nice touch, a note of balance.

Wisely, the bulk of the narrative is devoted to Joy’s early business success, which covers a few years. Less wisely, the story progresses to the pinnacle of her career in middle-age. She has by then also assumed the mantle of family matriarch, which is a good place to end. Problem is, the only way to get there is to hurry the story through a couple of decades via voice-over narration. Pity, given that the pacing of most of the film is one of its strong points.

Not a perfect movie, then, but an absorbing and lively one that works pretty well overall, and worth seeing for Lawrence’s performance alone.

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5 thoughts on “Joy movie review”

  1. I failed to buy in here, pretty much disliked every character except Joy herself, and was all WTF? about the shards of glass in the mop. I know that is probably part of the true story, but, please, filmmakers, some verisimilitude would not go astray! At least show her clearing the glass first and getting cut by an overlooked remnant. Don’t expect us to believe in the intelligence of someone who blithely mops a smashed-glass spill and wrings the mop by hand.

    It was all a bit American-dreamish for me.

  2. Agree, Karen, that most of the characters apart from Joy didn’t have much to like about them. The Bradley Cooper character was an exception for me though, due to his loyalty and the humanity that somehow emerged through his slick and thick marketer’s profits-are-all hide. Provided some balance and complexity that undercut the trite notion of capitalism being merely a robotic machine churning out profit and chewing up anyone or anything that gets in the way. In that sense, I thought they tempered the American dreamishness to which you refer.

    And yeah, that was dumb, Joy using her bare hands to wring the mop when she had just used it to clean up broken glass. It would have been simple to have made some small mods to make that more credible, such as your suggestion, or having her in a distracted or agitated state when she plunged her hand into the mop bucket. Small stuff, but it matters and should not have been overlooked.

    Still, I went along for the ride and enjoyed it, largely through being absorbed in the Joy character (thanks to Lawrence).


  3. So “Joy” is “about” a bunch of things (“the search for self and the fight for self-realization”, etc, etc), you say?

    Can I be completely contrary to all the established canons of film-criticism (i.e., the ones where movies are “studies” or “examinations” or blahblahblah’s of things external to the movie) and say that – aesthetically speaking – no movie is “about” anything whatsoever. Just as a Chopin nocturne is nothing other than a structure of sound.

  4. Old C, as you know from past discussions, we’re on the same page here. Your point comes down to semantics in this case. I used that “about” word and the observations that followed in the context of my flippant intro re pitching the movie, and as an economical way of listing some of the topics that surface in the film. As you’ll note on re-reading, I did have a point to make about that, which was to do with the sense that the director had taken on so much that he faced a battle to bring the baby home in one coherent piece. I say that’s a valid point to pursue as a reviewer, the intention being to try to lift the bonnet on why the movie feels a certain way (ie: in danger of veering out of control). That might not interest you, but it does me.

    I have to acknowledge that my critical eye does tend to fix on nuts-and-bolts dramatic issues. Nature of the beast, I’m afraid. Aristotle’s Poetics enthralled me and became a sort of blueprint of dramatic criticism while I was at uni, and I was the only student in my Lit course to find the Russian Formalists interesting. File that straight to the who-cares-but-rolanstein folder.

    Tell you what, though – I would like to issue you a challenge to put your theories on reviewing to practice, just for the purpose of clearly demonstrating their application and because I’d much appreciate the opportunity to compare and contrast my reviewing with yours.

    Here’s the challenge. I know you never get to see the current movies I review, so how about you write a review of max 600 words of any movie you have recently seen and I’ll publish it as a separate guest post. It would be preferable if you chose something well known so there’s a good chance readers have seen it, but the choice is ultimately yours.

    This is a genuine offer that I hope and ask you take up. I think the result will be far more instructive than talkin’ theory in short grabs in a Comments thread on a movie you haven’t seen.

    I always enjoy Karen’s reviews because her approach differs from mine and we often diverge in our emphases and assessments. That gets me thinking. Anything that can do that I find valuable heh heh! So, there you go – another reviewer voice, even as a one-off, would be most welcome on The Rap, and the choice and era of movie is yours.


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