Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, Robert de Niro, Edgar Ramirez and Isabella Rossalini
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: January 1st
Jennifer Lawrence’s age is an issue for some people in David O. Russell movies. She continuously plays much older than she actually is: at 22, she was recently widowed in Silver Linings Playbook; at 23, the trophy wife of a fictionalised Melvin Weinberg (played by Christian Bale, himself a good decade younger than Weinberg was during Abscam) in American Hustle; and now, most egregiously, at 25, she’s Joy, a fictionalised version of an inventor and entrepreneur who sold her Miracle Mop at the age of 41. Hollywood doesn’t write enough good movies for older women, and now when they do, J-Law is coming along to hoover them up. There’s some merit to the argument but by pursuing it, you don’t see what exactly it is that Lawrence brings to a project like this.
Joy exists in the middle-ground of Hollywood films that supposedly doesn’t exist any more. With a $60m budget, it should be considered too expensive for an indie about a woman who sells mops and too cheap for the bombast of blockbusters. Without Lawrence, a Capra-esque tale about one woman’s resilience, hard work and genius that boasts Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd and Isabella Rossellini in support never gets going. It’s important more than ever to focus on what it is, and not what’s it not.
And what it is, is pretty decent. O. Russell ditches the bloated Scorsese karaoke that plagued Hustle and moves back to what he knows best, family drama on the American east coast — Joy, set it in New York State, could even been seen as the bookend on a trilogy along with The Fighter (Boston) and Silver Linings (Philadelphia).
Joy lives in a run down house with her two children, mother, grandmother, ex-husband and father in a cramped arrangement that makes the Charlie Bucket’s four-to-a-bed grandparents’ living quarters look plush. A class valedictorian and bit of an underachiever, she works as a desk clerk for an airline and is consistently put down by her mother, father and half-sister as a housewife who’ll “never make it in a man’s world.” An inquisitive and driven mind, she creates the Miracle Mop, a self-wringing for life that she sells in supermarket carparks before moving into the startup world of TV infomercials.
To fault Joy, it’s a very simplistic story with no real conflict to overcome. Inception to creation to business mogul is a pretty smooth transition and it leaves you feeling you’ve missed out on something. Yet that simplicity is also its strongest point with O. Russell framing it around Christmas in a snow-covered Suffolk County that, along with a Diane Ladd narration, pushes it into fairytale territory.
Lawrence gives a solid central performance that shows more restraint than usual but bubbles like a dormant volcano. Refreshingly, none of the three male leads are love interests, instead serving as a support structure that recognise Joy’s brilliance and let her run with it. They’re mostly bumbling too, de Niro and Ramirez make-up a Step Brothers double-act living in her basement and Bradley Cooper’s Steve Jobs of the Shopping Network is laughable at best.
Joy is a strange movie, but a refreshing one. 2015 saw a trend of women at the forefront of its best movies, and if it’s a sign of more to come in 2016, it’s to be welcomed.