Loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop, “Joy” offers little more than evidence that David O Russell may be the smuggest filmmaker working in Hollywood today.
The dedication of the film to ‘the true stories of daring women. One in particular.’ smacks of the self-satisfaction that permeates the whole film. In self-congratulatory fashion, Russell has styled himself as a champion of feminism and women’s rights to the point where his heavy handed script pushes Joy’s daughter to the foreground of events while her son is relegated so far into the background that when he is comforted by Joy whilst ill in bed they didn’t even bother to have an actor lie in the bed, they just dubbed on some coughing while Jennifer Lawrence patted some pillows under blankets. Unfortunately, Russell’s decision to generalise the story into a fictionalised account of the life of a would-be entrepreneur hampered by her frankly awful family means everything descends to a superficial jumble of domestic squabbles and improbably coincidental big breaks.
Assembling his usual repertory company of actors, an unfocussed screenplay results in what is effectively a particularly lavish ‘Lifetime Movie of the Week’. With the exception of Lawrence, the performances across the rest of the cast are average to poor. DeNiro phones it in while Bradley Cooper looks like he’s on the verge of tears in every scene regardless of how his character is feeling. The less said about Isabella Rossellini the better but its Virginia Madsen who suffers most by being given a bizarre character without any context to give it depth. For a movie dedicated to women, it sure spends a lot of its time portraying them as selfish, bitchy, treacherous and just plain crazy.
The story as presented doesn’t offer much in the way of dramatic satisfaction, either. Unpleasant characters don’t get their comeuppance (although that’s probably the truest reflection of real life) and most of the rest of Joy’s family are cartoonish, one-dimensional characters. There’s a gimmicky knowing wink to the audience in the staging of Joy’s life against the backdrop of stiff TV soap opera acting (which sees daytime soap legend Susan Lucci send herself up) but it only serves to underscore how soapy and mundanely melodramatic Russell’s script is and in any event it’s summarily dropped half way through the movie. It’s accompanied by an awkward narrative device which attempts to paper over the gaps in the narrative but doesn’t really succeed.
Lacking the spark of “Silver Linings Playbook” and the razzle dazzle of “American Hustle”, if it weren’t for the efforts of its lead actress, this flat and superficial film would be a total disaster. David O Russell has made an almighty mess and looks to Jennifer Lawrence to clean it up all by herself. Metatextually, she’s his wonder mop but there’s just too much for even her to absorb.