What is ‘Joy’?
The question above does not refer to eternal philosophical ideas, but is a question posed to director David. O. Russell. What is ‘Joy’? Is it a comedy, a tramedy, a somewhat biopic or an ironic look at the American Dream? In theory is shouldn’t be a bad thing that a film defies generic classification, that it is something new, fresh and different. However in this case this question is raised by how irregular in tone and pace the film is. The film is remarkably uneven, drifting from one genre to another. However, an incredible performance from Jennifer Lawrence anchors a film that overall doesn’t quite gel.
Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a divorced mother of two young children. Her ex-husband and failed musician Toni (Édgar Ramírez) lives in the basement. Her seemingly-agoraphobic divorcee mother (Virginia Madsen) doesn’t leave her bedroom and whiles away the days watching soap operas. Her lothario father Rudy (Robert De Niro) briefs comes to stay before finding love with rich but uptight Trudy (Isabella Rossellini). Her half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) works with their father and constantly passively aggressively attacks Joy on a daily basis. All this is overseen by her loving Grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd). Joy’s days are spent dealing with all of her family’s dramas, with life not having handed her a very even deck. Having spent the first half of childhood being incredibly creative, designing multiple inventions, her enthusiasm was crushed the day her parents split up. 17 years later Joy is not particularly happy, stuck with being her family’s errand girl. It is during one of these errands that Joy makes a new invention that she is sure will make a fortune. But persuading the world of the value of her idea, let alone even her family, will not be so easy. Yet a chance encounter with Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) could be one step closer to the success she has always deserved.
A great cast does not always make a great film, as some may view is true of ‘Joy.’ Though it does have some extraordinarily powerful scenes, some emotional hold-your-breath moments, that’s all they are – moments. For the film itself is rather meandering – moving in unexpected and somewhat underprepared ways. It muddles through the key events in Joy’s life in a rather lacklustre fashion – never quite achieving its potential. This could be for multiple reasons. One could be the source material, as this is not a biopic of real-life inventor Joy Mangano, but a blended narrative of multiple women O. Russell admired. Another could be the fact the film used four different screen editors, a decision that without true collaboration can result in four differently edited films being shoehorned together. Tonally the film aims for a quirkiness that seems remarkably forced, from the rather unrealistic quirks of the characters to the voiceover narration from Grandma Mimi, to the various time hops to some oddly-placed soap opera themed dreams.
Obviously once Joy has come up with her fantastic new idea it will not be easy to make it a reality, but the disequilibrium – Joy does something badass to fix it – temporary equilibrium – another bout of disequilibrium – does become rather repetitive after a while. However is is that phrase ‘Joy does something badass to fix it’ that feels like the real point of this film. This is Lawrence’s third time at working with O. Russell and most of this ensemble cast and the benefits of that really shine through. The director knows how to help his lead achieve a star turn. And also her legacy in badass GIFS. Her performance is remarkable. Considering that she is potentially too young for this role Lawrence is incredible in how she interacts with the other characters, uses her voice to convey all manner of emotions and portray a world weariness that is beyond her years.
Overall ‘Joy’ in a enjoyable enough romp of a movie. Though the film itself is rather direction-less Lawrence herself is a ‘Joy’ to watch.