Oh, Joy. And yeah, I’m saying that in reference to the sarcastic pairing of the words and the movie itself.
I want to make this clear, though: I like Jennifer Lawrence. I like her movies, the roles she plays, all that stuff. She’s an awesome actress and I like how she went from an indie darling with small beginnings to becoming one of the biggest actresses in this day and age. However, with that being said, I’m not particularly keen on how she’s gotten, well, EVERYWHERE. I don’t know whether this is the fault of studios, the movies she stars in, or what, but it’s gotten out of control. Heck, she’s become so big, that not only was she the face of one franchise, The Hunger Games, in which she was the central main character, Katniss Everdeen, and rightfully so since they revolved largely around her character, but got shoved in as the face of another, the X-Men movies, as Mystique, who at this point has become the female equivalent to what Wolverine was for those movies, in which her character started out sorta big in one movie and later became almost the main character in later movies she appears in, despite the fact that they are supposed to revolve around an ensemble cast, what with them being based on a SUPERHERO TEAM, yet the other characters feel somewhat crammed in. And yeah, there’s the David O. Russell collaborations, which started out great in Silver Linings Playbook (one of my favorite films btw and she deserved the Oscar win for that), was okay in American Hustle (at the time I thought that movie was the best of 2013, nowadays I’m not sure), and is starting to get a bit tiresome, repetitive, and much like in the cases of Eli Roth, Tim Burton, and others who seem to collaborate with certain actors a bit too much, giving the impression of dependency issues, in Joy.
That isn’t to say Joy is a bad movie. I liked it, it’s just that there are certain things about it, particularly in the patterns that David O. Russell has subjected himself to since Silver Linings Playbook, which at the time with that film were unique, charming, and fun, have now risked themselves to near-pointlessness in Joy. Silver Linings Playbook was an unexpected juggernaut of success, a heartfelt and sweet adaptation of a quirky book (with some changes of course like with other adaptations, and able to stand on its own as well) starting out as an indie gem and becoming a mainstream success. American Hustle, riding on that movie’s success a year later, seemed to prefer style over substance, which can be fine in and of itself, with the actors really showcasing their acting ability in portraying damaged, weird, “quirky”, and crazy characters, but also can be, well, “meh” at times. And now with Joy, it just seems to be rinse and repeat here. In short, remember how I said that I didn’t like how some people would call Quentin Tarantino a “prima donna”? I think the opposite is kinda true with David O. Russell here.
I don’t know too much about the story of Joy Mangano or the Miracle Mop, and while the movie is produced by her, I guess it has some credence in following her story in her rise from humble beginnings to becoming a successful businesswoman, so I’m not gonna comment on the “true story” stuff here. I will, however, talk about the movie itself, and the parts I like and didn’t like about it.
The story of the movie is a mixed bag. It kinda drags itself here or there, sometimes I’m wondering when is something “big” supposed to happen, like when does Joy start becoming successful with her inventions and by the time it does happen, I was only kind of excited because the movie was padding itself out with depicting the various “quirky” characters and how “quirky” they are, which has become a tired-out trope at this point with David O. Russell’s movies lately. I do like the approach in telling this rags-to-riches tale and the struggles Joy goes through, but oftentimes it gets overshadowed by all the “quirkiness”, for lack of a better way to put it. Also, the movie is narrated by Joy’s grandmother Mimi (played by Diane Ladd), even after her “death”, and there’s a scene in which Joy is having a dream/nightmare about how her life and struggles are sorta connected to her mom’s soap operas (which also feature General Hospital actors, as my mom pointed out to me excitedly when we saw this), that adds more to the “quirkiness”, I guess.
Speaking of characters and their “quirks”, right off the bat, as if the title of the movie wasn’t clear enough, it is largely about Joy (played by Jennifer Lawrence), who is one of the few likeable characters in this movie, and that’s saying something. Some of the other characters can be downright mean-spirited, petty, or just despicable, like Joy’s dad Rudy (played by Robert De Niro), his girlfriend Trudy (played by Isabella Rossellini), her half-sister Peggy (played by Elisabeth Rohm), and some of the business people Joy encounters. Sometimes they can be helpful and encouraging, then the next minute they turn against her. It’s only through Joy’s determination and intelligence that she’s able to overcome the business people, which is admirable, but it’s gotta take some stern stuff for her to handle her own family trying to sue her for her own friggin company as the ending of the movie states, which again I don’t know if that’s true or not, but still it’s pretty harsh of them to do that to her (and yeah I don’t know why they’re doing this to her, the film doesn’t go into it much since it just kinda rushed this near the end). Others seem more one-note like Neil Walker (played by Bradley Cooper), the firm but fair businessman that helps Joy now and then, Terri Mangano (played by Virginia Madsen) who is basically a shut-in that focuses on nothing more than her soap operas and doesn’t exactly like men going into her room (though this changes later on), Joy’s best friend Jackie (played by Dasha Polanco) who is basically the best friend here, and Joy’s kids, who are just kinda there being supportive for her, though from what I can recall the daughter seemed more focused on than the son, almost to the point where I thought the son disappeared from the movie entirely, and once I saw him again later on that cleared things up. The only supporting character that was really likeable for me at all was her ex-husband Tony (played excellently by Edgar Ramirez, in a movie that sadly came out the same time as the shitty Point Break remake that he also starred in). Despite being divorced due to crappy circumstances and almost being a deadbeat, still living with her at her house and with her own divorced parents, he’s always there to support Joy no matter what, despite how others, particularly her father, seem to give him crap whenever he does. There is still good chemistry between the two here, from the moment they first met, to their marriage that got a rocky start thanks to her dad being a jackass at the wedding, and through the divorce, even to the point at the end of the film they are still business partners and he’s always looking out for her and their kids like he always has and always will, as the movie depicts it. It may not have as much of a big focus as other things in the movie, but it’s something that’s nice, sweet, and overall, to put it one way, “joyful”.
Joy is a mixed bag of a movie that is trying to ride on whatever steam is left from what David O. Russell, and others who have been with him, since Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, had in those movies. It was unique and fun the first time, a bit weird and meh but ok the second time, and now it’s getting a bit tired and repetitive with the risk of being pointless and annoying. It’s good to have style over substance, but when it gets into a pattern with the past couple movies, it’s also good to have equal amounts of style AND substance. Don’t just have something, like the plot, be in the backdrop so that the “quirkiness” of the characters overshadow everything, despite the superb acting ability by the actors. And if the same actors are gonna be in each subsequent movie, try new things with them, not just some “quirky” character that’s almost the same as the other they’ve done before. There can be a balance for all these things, it’s just not in this movie, and I hope it can happen for whatever comes next from everyone involved here. Maybe then there’ll be some “joy” to be found, who knows.