********* 6 out of 10 *********
Director: David O. Russell
Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramírez
Biopics have been much sought after by Hollywood studios in recent years, especially those like Joy, a rags-to-riches tale, a story on the relentless pursuit of one’s dreams. But no other biopic could have been more confusing than Joy when it comes to understanding the true tale which inspired the movie. The movie begins with these opening lines – “Inspired by the true stories of daring women. One in particular.” Well, that particular woman is Joy Mangano, an American inventor and businesswoman, who began her business journey by driving forward despite numerous obstacles to make her first product – the ‘Miracle Mop’ – a huge success. The original story for the movie, written by Annie Mumolo, was supposed to be a straightforward biopic. But when David O. Russell came onboard, he re-wrote the story to incorporate more elements that had nothing to do with the original Joy (artistic reasons, eh?). In fact, it required the Writers Guild of America to intervene so that Annie Mumolo could at least get a story credit for Joy along with David O. Russell, though the latter holds the sole credit for screenplay.
With David O. Russell getting so deeply involved in the writing of the film, I would have expected the final product to hold more charisma than what Joy eventually delivered. The story is right there to be made into a movie: a divorced young lady with two children, struggling to make her bill payments, who hits upon the idea of a self-wringing mop that she now has to sell. David O. Russell takes a very long and elaborate route to come to the crux of the matter, which leaves the first half of the movie dull and uninspiring with the look of a soap opera. Maybe not entirely. It has its moments of humor which brings relief now and then, but Russell’s efforts to properly acquaint the audience with the key characters lack the crispness of his previous movies.
David O. Russell’s recent movie lineup reads like this (going backwards): American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter. Each of these movies carried a big cast of characters who played off the lead central character, and within them they formed a tight cohesive unit. That’s the missing element in Joy, as the links between Joy and the remaining cast has not been tightly woven enough by Russell’s screenplay. The movie does brighten up in the second hour of its run-time, once a television network gives her product a chance to be sold on television. A moment in particular, when Joy does manage to sell her mops for the first time, and then breathes a sigh of relief, almost on the verge of tears, is absolutely moving. It is the kind of scene that instantly connects you with the film, the kind of moment that Russell is capable of capturing, but the movie needed more of those. It is also the moment which makes you stand up and applaud a certain young actress, Jennifer Lawrence.
Jennifer Lawrence may only be 25, but she is a bundle of talent, brimming with confidence, who knows what works on the screen. An exasperated daughter, a tired mother, an uncertain ex-wife, a disappointed inventor, but a courageous person, Jennifer Lawrence packages all that in one role without losing a step on the way. This role demanded more of her than any of the previous two she worked in collaboration with David O. Russell, and she’s stood upto the task and delivered. Even when the screenplay is faltering, it is the intensity of her performance and the command that she holds on screen, which keeps the audience hooked. To have four Academy Award nominations by this age, and already have won one, that’s a testament to the hardwork and dedication which the talented Lawrence brings to her movies. The make-up department of Joy though could have done better with this character, for she hardly looked the mother of two; the real-life Joy was also a good nine years older to Lawrence when she started selling her mops.
Robert De Niro, even though he is old enough to be the grandfather of Jennifer Lawrence in real life, does a terrific job as her business-minded, mildly annoying father. He along with Virginia Madsen, who plays Joy’s mother, create the friction and animosity to further bring out the despair in Joy’s life. Édgar Ramírez gives a soulful performance as the supportive ex-husband who comes across as a really nice chap you would want to be friends with. Bradley Cooper, as the executive at a television network, however seems to have taken up the role simply because it is a David O. Russell movie; there isn’t much on display about his character and while he does bring his charm for the brief role, it’s a far cry from the other performances he has given in Russell’s films. Veteran actress Diane Ladd is one of the few sane ones in Joy’s family, playing the lovable grandmother; Dascha Polanco plays the much-needed best friend; Elisabeth Röhm cuts across as a believable semi-wicked half-sister (a character that never existed in the real Joy’s life); and Isabella Rossellini is the Italian financier who lightens up the movie with her accent.
One can see the kind of movie that David O. Russell was offering us – the inspirational tale with the American dream rooted at its very heart. While it has its moments of inspiration, sparks of brilliance, it is still a shadow of what it could have been. Nonetheless, Joy makes one thing clear – Jennifer Lawrence is now big enough to carry a movie on her shoulders alone. Way to go!
PS: A photo of the real-life Joy Mangano.