Joy – Movie Review
Joy – Movie Review
Rating: A- (Great)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox
David O. Russell is a director known for playing with genres and taking otherwise mundane subject matter and taking it in crazy and unexpected directions. With Joy, he re-writes the biopic, a genre that has lately grown very stale and by-the-numbers. By taking on the story of Miracle Mop entrepreneur Joy Mangano, Russell understands precisely the traps he shouldn’t fall into and crafts something with real energy and family dynamics. With Jennifer Lawrence taking full command in a dynamite performance, Joy comes riding in to show what the other “true story” movies are doing incorrectly. It’s the right movie to cap off a year full of hit-or-miss biographies on film.
From the beginning, Joy quickly establishes itself as the Jennifer Lawrence Show. While Russell fills the screen with dependable actors, she always has the spotlight. This is a riveting performance for the ages, one where she truly grows as she copes with the eccentric family members around her. Her love and dedication for the rest of her clan is continually tested and there’s a burning ferocity that’s always there. Since she first grabbed our attention in Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence has been building a strong resume of instantly iconic performances and crafting an amazing body of work. If all of her future work is on par with what she delivers in Joy, we are going to see some of the best acting in the history of film and Lawrence will forever be looked upon as one of the greatest actors of the current generation. If The Hunger Games showed that Lawrence is a super-star, Joy solidifies her as a thespian force.
David O. Russell’s direction features his usual wild approach and it’s perfectly fitting to the material. There’s a knowing self-awareness to the clichés of the biopic genre and he cleverly makes fun of it. The scene where she first thinks of the Miracle Mop is like a parody of the usual “inspiration” scene that is found in all biopics, even the best ones. Joy becomes an involving character, precisely because Russell doesn’t feel the need to stick with the rigid structure of most biopics. Part of the beauty of Joy is it knows it doesn’t need to show her becoming a prominent millionaire and Shopping Network television personality. It’s her continuous perseverance to obtain that success that makes Joy compelling, rather than the later powerhouse she would eventually become in real life. It’s why some of the best scenes in Joy are when the audience is thrust into the world of the QVC television network.
While Jennifer Lawrence is definitely the star of the show, Russell surrounds her with a memorably colourful set of characters. Virginia Madsen is committed to the role of Joy’s soap opera-obsessed mother and Russell cleverly weaves scenes of fake episodes into the narrative. Bradley Cooper is a riot as the executive who helped put the Miracle Mop on screen, showing a genuine enthusiasm but also an business-savvy intelligence. There’s almost something admirable with the way he continually compares himself with movie studio moguls of the past. All the while, Diane Ladd serves as almost a singular Greek chorus as she narrates the continuing the saga of Joy’s journey to bring the Mop to market. Russell, as usual, peppers the soundtrack with the appropriate period song as befitting the characters and their predicament.
Leave it to David O. Russell to take a tired biopic and zap it with the proper energy. It almost feels like he’s been building up to this film since he accepted the gig to direct The Fighter. Joy has all of the delights of his American Hustle two years ago and crafts the biographical picture I have been waiting all year for. This is clearly the product of a director not the least bit interested in making his films in an obvious and by-the-numbers fashion. With Joy, he is almost thumbing his nose at the system that says these sorts of movies have to be made in such a way. All awards season long, I’ve complained about movies that don’t take advantage of the cinematic artform and would really be more appropriate on television. Joy is not one of those films. Joy is the sort of mid-budget film that deserves to sit alongside the big spectacles. It is as far away from the stereotypical and conventional biopic as you can get and that should be rewarded.