Director David O. Russell re-teams with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro for “Joy,” a very different story than their past collaborations.
The dysfunctional glee found in “Silver Linings Playbook” makes but a cameo appearance in “Joy.” And Cooper’s sizable presence in both “Playbook” and “American Hustle” has gone missing. So, too, is the giddy combination of heartbreak and drama powered by Russell’s jukebox picks.
What’s left? A capitalist success story stricken by high expectations and hokey plot twists.
Lawrence’s Joy, very loosely based on serial entrepreneur Joy Mangano, was born into a loving, supportive family. She could achieve anything she dreamed, or so she was told. Only life hasn’t played out to that blueprint so far.
She’s broke, divorced and caring for both her two young children (one strangely is rarely seen) and a near-catatonic mother (Virginia Madsen). When her sponge of a father (De Niro) drops by, it’s up to Joy to keep him afloat, too.
A red wine spill gives Joy an epiphany – she concocts a self-cleaning mop that can last a lifetime. Can she get it to the market? Will family drama drag down her ambitions? And when will Cooper show up to complete the reunion?
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The hype surrounding Lawrence – she’s beautiful, talented and still so young (just 25) is richly deserved. She makes Joy’s indomitable spirit real and relatable. The actress might want to work on her accent, though. Its inconsistency robs some powerhouse scenes of their vigor.
Russell’s knack for invigorating pop soundtracks keeps “Joy” alive, but too often the music isn’t paired with equally magnetic material. Joy’s dramatic setbacks take on a cartoonish quality after a while. It’s invigorating to watch her knees buckle before she starts fighting back, but the process happens so often it should arrive with comic book sound effects. Bam! Zoom!!
Little Joy in Her Family
It isn’t just a David vs. Goliath tale Russell wants to share. Joy’s sister, a one-note harpie played by Elisabeth Rohm, can’t wait for her to stumble. Their poor mother’s mental state isn’t directly explained, even if her courtship with a Haitian plumber packs comic potential.
De Niro ‘s character simply never settles in. His heart is in the right place even if his guidance is wobbly, but he starts the film in a rage that evaporates and never is glimpsed again.
“Joy” hints at a greater purpose when the main character gets her closeup on HSN. We’re suddenly watching the dawn of a cable staple while seeing today’s pop culture through a curious prism. It’s where Cooper finally appears, playing an executive who strikes an uncommon bond with Joy.
A quieter than usual Cooper sends off random sparks which never ignite. He’s too good an actor for such an inconsequential role.
Joy clings to the American dream like she does her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez, “Point Break”). He’s a failed singer who lives in her basement but always has her back. That dynamic could have deepened “Joy.” Instead, like every other quirk it’s all sideshow, and little more.
“Joy” emerges as a flawed but watchable American Dream saga, a trope one hopes will never wear out its welcome. What matters more here, though, is the unfortunate talent that didn’t merge as expertly as it did two times before.
DID YOU KNOW: Despite generating more than $3 billion in sales with her inventions, the real Joy Mangano continues to appear on HSN to hawk her wares.