The golden quartet from the highly acclaimed “Silver Lining’s Playbook” (2012) and “American Hustle” (2013) – consisting of director David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro – has done it again. The inspired-by-true-events story, Joy, had the potential of becoming this decade’s “Erin Brockowich” (2000), but despite Lawrence’s outstanding performance, the story gets completely lost in dreamy flashbacks and lengthy soap-opera nightmares.
The action is set to the 1990s Pennsylvania, and is based on Joy Mangano’s story as a working-class single mother who found her way to wealth through the invention of a mop, and who later patented over a hundred products that would make her a matriarch with a multi-million dollar business running all across America. Her journey, however, was filled with all kinds of adversity, mainly caused by her highly dysfunctional family.
Jennifer Lawrence delivers one of her all-time best performances, and had the movie itself matched her incredible feistiness and class, this would have been a hit beyond measures. After her Golden Globe win yesterday, it should come as no surprise if she earns yet another Oscar nomination later this month. However, the other characters seem to fade away in comparison to her ambitious and strong-willed attitude – which is not necessarily a bad thing. Joy’s family appears to lack every inch of structure, discipline, determination and skill that she, herself, possesses. So even if the other actors’ (Cooper, De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen et al) performances seem flat, the nature of their characters’ personalities simply doesn’t allow for mind-blowing performances like Lawrence’s. As a side effect, that somewhat magnifies the power of Joy’s actions and makes her shine like a star in her surroundings.
Too see that the female lead is given this much significance and influence is refreshing in an otherwise male-dominated industry. Joy even passes the Bechdel Test with highest honors, and is completely free from any kind of romance and sexual content – which is more rare that one would think. So alongside similar biopics, such as “Erin Brockowich” (2000), “Frida” (2002) and “La Vie en Rose” (2007), this story had loads of potential.
But – even though Joy’s real-life journey probably was incredibly turbulent, lengthy and frustrating – the story is just told in such an unbearably slow-moving way that makes her success in the end seem like a tiny anecdote: “And by the way, she made it. The End.” The triumphant moment where it all comes together was just not a part of the script – or at least not a big enough part of the script.
Russell also incorporates several scenes from a bizarre black and white “Dynasty-like” soap opera throughout the movie. Considering that Joy is, unknowingly at the time, on her way to build a dynasty of her own, it sort of works as a premonition that blends well with the rest of the shots. But it also adds a dreamy, psychedelic David Lynch-effect to the story that feels misplaced and seems to add an extra hour to the already 124-minute long film.
By Maria Lavelle, January 11th 2016