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JOY (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by John Davis, Megan Ellison,
Jonathan Gordon, Ken Mok, David O. Russell
Story by Annie Mumolo, David O. Russell
Written and Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro,
Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd,
Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini

This holiday season we are presented with David O. Russell’s newest comedic, yet slightly depressing creation, Joy.

I have a sort of unconditional love for the director, so it’s hard for me to admit that this film wasn’t my favorite. While all the usual suspects (Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, to name a few) perform with excellent timing and deprecating humor, I felt the story was diminished by the fact that the typically fluid, fun yet exciting nature we’ve come to love in Russell’s films, was over-exaggerated, a bit contrived, and pretty slow.

Now, the story of Joy is actually fun and interesting.

It’s a true story about a woman who single-handedly creates a corporation from her invention of the self-wringing mop—this after taking care of her broken-hearted soap-opera obsessed mother, dealing with her ex-husband, who awkwardly lives in her basement, and juggling her father’s move in/move out situations depending on whether or not he has a girlfriend.

Joy is thwarted at every turn not only by familial dysfunction, but bad luck, and irrational circumstances that render her helpless. Her mop invention is incredibly fitting here, as she is so often the rag (of her family) that is used to clean up mess after mess without any consideration for her wants, needs, or happiness.

There was a lot of great content to be used, but the presentation was executed in an almost cocky and disingenuous way—I don’t think it was totally intentional, at least I hope not. But the mood was just too inconsistent. And maybe the purpose of the unsteady aspect was to mirror the characters’ discombobulated lifestyles, but I’d say that’s a pretty far-fetched notion and, regardless, it didn’t work.

The unfortunately inauthentic quality of Joy began during the opening scene with a kitschy voice-over. That wise-old-grandmother gimmicky storytelling feature instantly gave the film a child-like satirical air. Not only was it unnecessary, it was out of place considering the grandmother was in the film a minuscule amount. Other pitfalls include pace, odd nightmare-dream sequences, and simply unrealistic character traits.

Flashbacks and expository recaps of Silver Linings Playbook as well as American Hustle, are fluid and relevant, the same just cannot be said about Joy.

The first hour is an assembly of disjointed scenes that reflect past and present slights and slims of Joy’s childhood, but they don’t add anything to the film, but instead elongate the already two-plus-hour running time. The story of Joy’s movement forward is far more interesting than her past. We don’t need nightmares of stress—Jennifer Lawrence does a perfect job presenting that stress in her facial expressions, no more is necessary.

Here I will say that David O. Russell indeed knows how to direct his actors, regardless of the pitfalls of this film, the director knows how to make a film look great. His consistent extreme close-ups and over-the-shoulder point of view shots accompanied by an amazing soundtrack, equally inspire sympathy and pump up the audience respectively.  The presentation of the claustrophobic house in which Joy’s dysfunctional family resides is done with the same delight as the overbearing environment of Silver Linings Playbook, but many scenes that start off strong, end up goofy instead of genuine.

Don’t get me wrong, I was entertained throughout, but those funny scenes, either ones of depressive humor, witty dialogue, or empowering success, weren’t enough to merit this film a success.

During the brief shining scenes, that most often include Bradley Cooper (I say that trying my hardest not to be biased), or Jennifer Lawrence solo (without interaction with other characters), the film sparkles. The soundtrack picks up, the mood lifts, and just as you’re ready to change your opinion of the movie, the rhythm shifts right back to another slow moving set of circumstances that are just disappointing.

Joy isn’t a bad movie.

It’s just very much not David O. Russell’s finest.

I’m guessing there will be other movies that might be more worthwhile seeing on Christmas Day, but if you love Russell’s familiar cast and the humor that they offer, grab a morning mimosa and enjoy it.

Emphasis on the mimosa.

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