Review: Joy

And here we are. My final film review of the year. As much as I’d like to send 2015 out on a high note, I think we’re going to come to quite an awkward end with quite an awkward film from a particular filmmaker who has certainly won my respect over the last few years. David O’Russell’s Joy felt anything but joyful in my opinion and it’s a shame because Jennifer Lawrence, who is one of my favorite performers, couldn’t salvage it.

Lawrence plays the title character, a struggling woman caught in the eye of a storm of personal unrelenting drama; she lives with her mother, played by Virginia Madsen, who spends day after day on her butt watching soap-operas, she is tirelessly working to support her two children, her ex-husband, played by Edgar Ramirez lives in her basement, her father played by Robert De Niro is the kind of guy who you would never nominate for father-of-the-year and she is up to her neck in debt and mourning the broken dreams she once had for herself and the lost potential her grandmother, played by Diane Ladd, saw in her when she was a child.

The inciting incident of Joy is when she has an idea that she believes will have a profound impact on how the world cleans up the messes that come with life; a mop that you don’t have to wring out with your hands and Joy chronicles how Joy took her family on this expedition to gamble everything she and they have on this mop to get them out of the mess they found themselves in.

Image By Kurt Kulac, via Wikimedia Commons

I truly liked watching Jennifer Lawrence in this movie. She was the silver lining in this swirling, blurring mess of a movie; while the film was hustling through this story about a woman trying to seize her American dream, she was the constant that kept my attention whether her character was trying to keep her father in line while he was embarrassing himself and her at Joy’s wedding or on television for the first time showcasing the Miracle Mop, she certainly gives another strong performance in a David O. Russell motion picture.

What went wrong with Joy is ironic because the movie is loosely based on the woman who invented something to clean up messes, Joy itself is a mess because I felt that it lacked identity. I believe initially, it was a film about Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop, but I recall that Russell modified the story drawing inspiration from the strong women in Russell’s personal life and I had difficulty discerning what was what in this movie and I lacked any kind of empathy for these characters even though I could relate to Joy’s character, who is trying to make ends meet and yearns to make something of herself.

It’s disappointing because David O. Russell’s previous two films, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, were universally lauded especially by me and Joy is just a massive letdown considering Russell re-ups with Lawrence, DeNiro and Bradley Cooper. I guess you could say that Joy will draw fans of Russell, Lawrence, DeNiro and/or Cooper in based on their prior work together but ultimately falls short of capturing that magic that made Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle special.

I think David O. Russell overreached and went overboard in terms of writing and directing this film based on his and Annie Mumulo’s story. I felt that the story lacked wit, humor, impact and I just couldn’t resonate with Joy at all, visually or in narrative.

The cast is a’ight. This is a cast of formidable female performers including the great Isabella Rossellini but outside of Lawrence, there isn’t exactly a great standout performance in this movie; DeNiro, Madsen, Ladd, Ramirez, Cooper are all solid but this is a letdown considering that Russell’s previous two films were ensemble-driven pictures and Joy is designed around Lawrence’s leading role and the rest of the cast is meant to support.

I couldn’t like or dislike Linus Sandgren’s cinematography in this film. I felt that there was too many tracking shots, close-ups, everything felt too invasive for a film that followed a historical perspective and the editing of Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Tom Cross and Christopher Tellefsen didn’t help at all. The use of flashback in particular felt disjointed and abrupt.

Dylan Campbell and West Dylan Thordson’s music is forgettable, Judy Becker’s production design is decent, Peter Rogness’ art direction is average, Hillary Derby and Heather Loeffler’s set decoration is unnoticeable, Michael Wilkinson’s costume design is okay, I just felt that, in terms of overall technical aesthetic and appeal, this movie wastes a lot of talent.

Could Jennifer Lawrence see another Oscar nomination come her way for Joy? Perhaps, but Joy itself won’t standout from the rest of the films released this year because there isn’t anything else for it. Someone needs to mop up this mess.

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