A mighty quirky film about a grossly dysfunctional family with a fiesty and determined young woman at its core, Joy is the latest offering from acclaimed writer/director David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle). This dramatic comedy asks the question what makes up the magic of a life? What keeps a person trying after continually faltering, seemingly perpetually knocking their head against a brick wall?
Joy focuses on the eponymous central character, a single mum turned business magnate, played wonderfully by Jennifer Lawrence. She is nothing if not daring, resilient and persistent. Joy is taken from her youth into her 40s, from dreams deferred to fighting for her honour and striving for self-fulfillment. The story is based loosely upon the life of American Joy Mangano, who in the 1990s became a new kind of television star and entrepreneurial powerhouse with a series of household inventions.
Joining Lawrence is a typically wide-ranging Russell ensemble. That includes Robert De Niro as Joy’s hot-tempered yet hopelessly romantic father, Rudy, and Edgar Ramirez as Joy’s ex-husband Tony, a struggling musician living in the basement … with her father. Diane Ladd is Joy’s insightful and influential grandmother Mimi; Virginia Madsen plays Joy’s soap-opera addicted mother Terry; while Isabella Rossellini is cast as Trudy, Rudy’s well-off, widowed Italian lover. Dascha Polanco fills the role of Joy’s life-long friend and confidante jackie, while Elisabeth Rohm is Joy’s rival half-sister Peggy; and Brad Cooper plays Neil, a mogul-style home shopping executive who becomes both Joy’s ally and adversary.
My first reaction while watching events unfolding during Joy was to recognise again just what a great actor Jennifer Lawrence is. Make no mistake, this was a particularly demanding role – highly nuanced. The same comments could apply to Brad Cooper, who plays a much smaller – but still significant – part.
Joy is extremely idiosyncratic, especially early on and it takes a while to establish just what is happening. In fact, initially it is quite perplexing. Despite her best and most honourable intentions, Lawrence’s character almost inevitably ends up with grief for the lion’s share of the film. Others around her take advantage and this gradually wears her down. Somehow though she always seems to find a way through and it is this dogged determination that is her saving glory.
The film really kicks up a gear when she invents a new mop and tries to peddle it through whatever means she can. It starts to purr when Cooper enters the frame as a hot shot television shopping channel executive and Lawrence ties herself to him. Most of the joy (if you pardon the pun) I derived from the movie came from that point onwards.
Another bravura performance from Lawrence is the making of Joy, which could have been tightening at the start to give it even greater punch, but is definitely a film to savour. Rated M, it scores an 8 out of 10.
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Virginia Madsen, Robert De Niro and Isabella Rossellini
Release Date: 26 Decembe, 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television