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
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.
Movie website: www.foxmovies.com/movies/joy
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