Sunday, January 03, 2016

A Life Re-invented

Third time’s not the charmed...est for David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence.

See, their Joy – the purported early ’90s-set biopic of Joy Mangano, the inventor the Miracle Mop – is not the commercial and critical hit that their previous efforts, American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, were, and here’s the reason: Those films felt cohesive, and this comes off as a puzzle.

Written and directed by Russell (who shares a story by credit with Annie Mumolo, the Academy Award-nominated co-writer of Bridesmaids), the production opens with the disclaiming dedication that it is inspired by the true stories of daring women. One in particular: Mangano – although her last name never factors into the plot.

That revelation took me out of the film almost immediately because it suggested that, much like Steve Jobs, Joy wasn’t going to be strict about relating Mangano’s story, an incredible rags-to-riches yarn about a single mom from Long Island who, in a way, revolutionized the world. Why Russell would choose to pepper in details about the lives of other women, to skimp on Mangano’s story, completely escapes me. After all, she sounds like she was more than enough.

Alas, the Joy in Joy is, perhaps, a bit too much. Those surrounding her definitely are.

J. Law’s heroine is a divorced mother of three (her ex, played by Point Break’s Édgar Ramírez, lives in her basement and has become her best friend) who bears the brunt of having to support her loving grandmother (hello, screen legend Diane Ladd!), shut-in mother (Virginia Madsen), and look-out-he’s-moving-in father (played as a discounting ne’er-do-well by Robert De Niro) on an airline-clerk salary (aww...Eastern).

Lifes not ideal for the woman, and it’s not working out.

Nearing the end of her already tenuous rope, Joy, ever the inventive one, comes up with a self-ringing mop while out sailing with her dad’s new gf’s (Isabella Rossellini, chewing on scenery som’in’ fierce). She mortgages her entire life in the hope that a gamble on her novelty will pay off big.

Obviously, it did.

What Joy aims to do is chronicle the familial and societal struggle Joy endured on the road to success. The struggle was beyond-real, given that she was surrounded by emotional vampires (including a jealous half-sister portrayed by Elisabeth Röhm, an American Hustle alumna) and shady characters that wanted to steal from her. Except her fight comes off cartoonish because the drama of it all is so heightened.

Joy feels forced. It meanders. Bradley Cooper pops up for a cameo/supporting role as a QVC kingmaker (the real Joy became a sensation for the then-fledgling network) that is ultimately pointless since his character’s professional relationship with Joy is underdeveloped. I guess he serves his purpose, though: He is there to show us that Joy probably would have made it regardless of whether she’d ever met him. That she did only set her on a path toward a multi-million dollar empire.

Lawrence acquits herself nicely playing far older than she is at the end there because she’s a movie star. Her performance is that charismatic, that magnetic and effective, and yet, Russell fails to give her Joy much of any, and worse, he doesn’t provide his partner in moviemaking a showy moment of like, I won’t take it anymore!

Joy’s big moment is subdued. Lawrence can do subdued, but it’s like watching a declawed lioness tear into an attacker.

It’s mesmerizing stuff, not amazing. And I was expecting to be blown away by this one.

My Rating **

Photo: 20th Century Fox.

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