From mop rags to riches. Academy Award winners Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper star in David O. Russell’s Joy.

JoyCast of Characters:
Joy Mangano – Jennifer Lawrence
Rudy Mangano – Robert De Niro
Tony Miranda – Edgar Ramirez
Mimi – Diane Ladd
Terry Mangano – Virginia Madsen
Trudy – Isabella Rossellini
Jackie – Dascha Polanco
Peggy Mangano – Elisabeth Rohm
Danica – Susan Lucci
Clarinda – Laura Wright
Jared – Maurice Benard
Priscilla – Donna Mills
Neil Walker – Bradley Cooper

Director – David O. Russell
Screenplay – David O. Russell
Producer – John Davis, Ken Mok, Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon & David O. Russell
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language

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No matter where she looks, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) just can’t find a break. Whether it’s her dead-end job or taking care of her kids, her soap-opera addicted mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), her divorced father Rudy (Robert De Niro), her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) and even, of all people, her ex-husband Tony Miranda (Edgar Ramirez), who’s living in her basement, Joy is constantly being tugged and pulled at for help by her wildly eccentric family.

But just when it seems like she’s reach her wit’s end, the light bulb in her head clicks and she comes upon a “miracle” of an idea that just might very well be the ticket out of the debt-filled rut she and her family have been floundering in.

Whether he’s sharply dividing opinions of both moviegoers and critics or pissing off one of his cast members by way of verbal abuse or physical threats, David O. Russell isn’t quite what you’d call the easiest guy in the room to get along with. Yet despite his notorious on-set behavior, Joy manages to be his third collaboration with the acting trio of Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper (following Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle). Clearly there must be something that the four like about working with each other.

But after two great efforts from the winning quartet, Joy falls far short of the hat trick.

Even if you don’t know of the real-life Joy Mangano, I’m fairly certain she’s affected your life in some form or another. You may have caught her on one of the QVC or HSN infomercials, and if you’ve ever used a Miracle Mop, you owe her a thank you for not having to wring out a scummy mop head with your hands. Along with the Miracle she’s also invented Huggable Hangers, Performance Platforms and Shades Readers.

Mangano’s rags to riches story is worthy of a feature film; however, Russell’s version is quite a mess. Between Joy’s early aspirations to invent things in the midst of her family’s ongoing drama (Russell uses soap-opera parallels that don’t work), her rise to fame through QVC, and then her financial battle over her manufacturer’s fraud, Russell’s crammed at least three individual films – two lackluster and one compelling – into one sluggishly paced film.

Most of the film’s problems lie with Joy’s batty family (a waste of fine cast including Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen and Edgar Ramirez). Russell is no stranger to complex, flawed families – e.g., the excellent boxing biopic The Fighter – but this family here is all flaws and no complexity. They bicker and bicker some more; they build Joy up, then tear her down; they mooch off her like overly-dependent leeches, then in the blink of an eye, they become her fiercest allies. It just keeps repeating for a majority of the film, and the problem is that throughout the movie, none of the family members show the slightest bit of an arc (the closest thing to an interesting relationship out of the bunch is Lawrence and Ramirez as the friendliest divorced couple in the world, but even their developments together are rushed). That would be fine if they didn’t sound like a broken record every time Joy kept taking one step forward, only to take two steps back.

The film starts to click midway through when Bradley Cooper and the QVC Network are introduced. It’s during those scenes where Russell’s focus is the sharpest as we are given insight into how the “Quality, Value, Convenience” shopping station works, and what Mangano’s contribution to the network was. Cooper, whose chemistry opposite Lawrence still remains strong, turns in a dynamite handful of scenes, though it’s unfortunate that his character is quickly discarded almost as soon as he first shows up. Once the QVC scenes were done, and we were back to Joy’s family and their repetitive bickering, I couldn’t help disappointingly wonder how much better a film just on QVC would’ve been.

Even more damning, and sadly so, is Jennifer Lawrence. Don’t get me wrong, Lawrence is one of the finest young actresses we have today, and the effort in her performance is certainly there, but she’s just badly miscast here. At 25, she is unable to sell for a single scene that she’s an aspiring mid-’30s entrepreneur who’s trying to rise above the life that has beaten her down to the ground repeatedly (someone like Amy Adams would’ve been a much better fit). Sure, in American Hustle she also was playing a character too old for her (which was my one quibble with the film), but that was a misstep easy to forgive since she was like the fourth most important character in the film. Here, she has to shoulder the entire film and it’s distracting.

It also doesn’t help that there’s no dramatic weight given to Joy’s moments of rock bottom desperation ’cause no matter what the problem is, it’s easily fixed by her in the next scene. When she self-cuts herself a perfect lob and decides to take on her swindlers, it’s practically resolved entirely with just the snap of a finger. She gives one speech, flaunts her empowered look, and the big, mean manipulator just caves on a dime and gives in to her demands.

That must be one magical haircut.

Joy features some fine performances and an engaging middle-act, but David O. Russell is unable to make all the overall pieces of his overstuffed, repetitive narrative gel, and, though no fault of her own, Jennifer Lawrence’s miscasting just adds to the biopic’s faultiness. Joy Mangano’s story is surely an inspirational one. Unfortunately, her film treatment has flashes of titular emotion that, at best, occur far too infrequently.

I give Joy a C- (★★).


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One thought on “Joy

  1. Sometimes actors that are good lack being able to know when a part isn’t right for them, in this case J. Lawrence. I agree about it
    being a perfect medium for Amy Adams. Good review. T. M .

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