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Joy (2015)
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by alejandroariera

"I Have Spent Far More Joyous Hours Watching EVINE"
2 stars

I was willing to give David O. Russell’s new film “Joy” a pass after seeing it at a press screening a couple of weeks ago. There is a lot to like about it and a lot to dislike as well. But the more I thought about “Joy” the more the dislikes overpowered the likes. Whatever virtues I found in Edgar Ramírez’s light-footed performance as Tony, the title character’s ex-husband, or in the few scenes between Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, who have developed an on-screen rapport reminiscent of Hepburn and Tracy, where overshadowed by the film’s greatest flaw.

Like the families in “The Fighter” (2010) and “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012), Joy’s family will do everything in their power to bring the protagonist down. But, unlike Micky Ward’s family in the former or the bipolar ex-teacher and ex-con Pat Solitano’s in the latter, Joy’s is nothing more and nothing less than a one-dimensional crew of screaming shrews and overprotective, damaged and jealous relatives. They drown the voices of those sympathetic to Joy’s plight. You could argue that in building this story, loosely based on entrepreneur Joy Mangano’s life, as a Cinderella-like fairy tale, Russell is relying on the straightforward black and white tropes of the genre. But the stepmother and stepsisters in the original “Cinderella” are far more nuanced in their predetermined roles than these characters. Joy’s family doesn’t register as a family unit the way Micky’s and Pat’s do: they are just plot obstacles to be overcome in a film that can’t quite make its mind as to what it wants to be.

Narrated by Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), we meet Joy as a child full of ideas and aspiration. Decades later, Joy (Lawrence) is a divorced mother of two and her household’s only source of income. She dropped out of college after her parents divorced to take care of her mother Carrie (the great Virginia Madsen in a thankless role) who, traumatized by the divorce, spends her whole day in bed watching crappy daytime soaps. Tony still lives with Joy, her two kids, Mom and Grandma. Joy’s dad Rudy (Robert De Niro), owner of a bus and truck repair shop and a shooting range, is moving in with Joy after being kicked out of his house by his now ex-girlfriend. Add a jealous sister to the mix, and let the put-me-downs begin. For both Rudy and half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) are Mr. and Miss Negativity, constantly haranguing Joy for her perceived failures even though the family would be a shambles without her.

Rudy finds an ideal partner in Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), an Italian widow who will play a pivotal role in Joy’s success, brief downfall and rebound. For it is in Trudy’s yacht while scrubbing its teak-floors after a glass of wine shatters in them, cutting her hands in the process, that Joy’s once-fertile imagination wakes up and she comes up with a new invention: the Miracle Mop, a retractable self-wringing mop. Yes, this is a film about a mop. Joy secures financing from Trudy, turns her father’s shop into a factory and, after a failed attempt selling her mops in a parking lot, she convinces QVC, a nascent home shopping channel, to carry her product.

The scenes involving QVC are full of wit and energy. From the moment Joy meets QVC executive Neil Walker (Cooper) we expect sparks to fly. Cooper’s Walker is a combination of genial tour guide of a wonderland of TV cameras, products and celebrities; straightforward no-bullshit executive; and enthusiastic orchestra conductor who, like a home shopping version of Gustavo Dudamel, energetically and gracefully directs the action on the studio floor and backstage. Lawrence’s reaction as she enters this magical commercial kingdom is a wonder to behold: a small child who sees her dreams fulfilled right in front of her. Joy’s enthusiasm and delight is downright contagious when, after conquering her stage fright on her first TV appearance, she addresses the public as if they were her next-door neighbors. Alas, Russell and the film’s four editors let her down as soon as she steps off that TV stage.

No sooner does Joy gets this first taste of freedom than Russell ramps up the family’s hostility and envy, leading her to make the wrong business decisions. Every single setback feels on like one of those obstacles soap operas like the one Carrie watches rely on to make the protagonist’s life more miserable. Russell never manages to fully explain what keeps Joy tied to this family, why she doesn’t finally stand up to them. By focusing so much on these family dynamics, Russell treats what should have been the story of Joy’s learning curve from naive, trusting entrepreneur to business professional —which is really what this third act should have been about— as an afterthought.

Thank God for Edgar Ramírez, one of the film’s few bright spots. Whenever he popped on screen as the supportive, more reasonable voice in this confederacy of malcontents, I smiled. He brings such ease and effortlessness to his performance, such decency, that you wished he had more screen time than his fellow actors. Seeing Lawrence and Ramírez speak to each other in Spanish was an unexpected delight as well: you believed in them as an estranged couple. I also appreciated that Russell set this story in a multi-ethnic milieu, that he paid attention to the world Joy lives in.

The final minutes of the film see Joy take over the reins once again but the denouement feels gratuitous, obligatory. As much as one may admire Joy’s gumption and guts in these final scenes, it’s too little, too late. For a filmmaker who believes in the power of positive thinking, who has flourished in chaotic environments, “Joy” feels like a step back. It aspires to be inspirational and it fails.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27489&reviewer=434
originally posted: 12/23/15 12:00:00
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User Comments

1/23/16 Langano Not bad. 3 stars
12/25/15 Tony Brubaker I want to bugger Jennifer Lawrence. 5 stars
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  25-Dec-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-May-2016


  DVD: 03-May-2016

Directed by
  David O. Russell

Written by
  Annie Mumolo

  Jennifer Lawrence

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