DVD Review - Joy

Of all the films writer-director David O. Russell has done with Jennifer Lawrence, this one has done the worst. Silver Linings Playbook (2012) was Russell and Lawrence's first collaboration. It made $132 million domestically off a $21 million budget. It earned eight, Oscar nominations, winning one for Lawrence as Best Actress. American Hustle (2013), their second, made $150 million off a $40 million budget. It earned ten, Oscar noms. This movie, their third, had a budget of $60 million. Domestically, it only made $56 million. One can speculate as to why. Of the three, Russell and Lawrence films, this one features Lawrence more in the central role and in more of a feminist stance. The previous two films are still more about the men. Even though Lawrence was in The Hunger Games, a successful franchise, those movies were just as much about the violence and the muscularity of action as any male or testosterone-centered film. Much like Mad Max: Fury Road, those films were feminism that people, particularly men, accepted because it came wrapped in fast chases and explosions.

That's not the case here. This is the first, Russell and Lawrence film that isn't about Lawrence's relationship to a man. This movie is not about her needing a man or even about being in love with one. One of the early lines of dialogue is the young girl in question saying, "I don't need a prince." This is truly a feminist film, her best since Winter's Bone, yet it's the lowest-rated from a critical perspective. It's also a biopic about a woman that isn't about her being a performer or an entertainer. It's about her intelligence, her brain.

Lawrence stars as Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop. She's from Long Island, New York. She's divorced with three children. Her ex-husband however still lives in her basement. Meanwhile, her mother and father also reside with her. She works at an airline taking reservations and doing customer service, but she also does accounting at her father's garage. She's a bit of handyman, fixing things when they break, yet she's tired and overwhelmed with everything and everyone.

She's reminded of a dog collar she made and the suffocation and frustration in her life pushes her to go back to inventing to try to change and better her world. The film follows as she comes up with her Miracle Mop and then tries to sell it successfully, as well as the stumbling blocks and even adversaries that get in her way or try to bring her down.

The movie starts out on a comedic note by comparing Joy's family to the soap opera families on the TV that Joy's mother watches in her room. Russell's film loses track of the soap opera aspect, at least on a literal or direct level about half-way through. Yet, it is fun to watch veteran soap-opera actors appear within the vignettes. Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, Maurice Bernard and Donna Mills were a few of the soap vets who pop up.

The cast otherwise is great. Robert De Niro as Rudy, Joy's father whose main purpose for dating is to find someone to shelter him. Virginia Madsen as Terry, the soap-obsessed mother, is a shut-in but becomes intrigued by Touissant, the Haitian plumber, played by Jimmy Jean-Louis. Édgar Ramírez is Tony, the Venezuelan ex-husband, son of a music teacher and Tom Jones-wannabe. Aundrea and Gia Gadsby are Cristy, Joy's daughter who likes books about cicadas. Elisabeth Röhm is Joy's sister, Peggy, overly-ambitious and a bit jealous.

Other actors who don't play Joy's family are also brilliant. Dascha Polanco (Orange is the New Black) is Jackie, Joy's best friend who helps her every step along the way. Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet) is Trudy, the wealthy investor who gets Joy's business started and who doesn't like red wine on her tiny yacht. Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) who has co-starred in every other Russell and Lawrence film thus far plays Neal Walker, an executive at QVC who decides to put Joy's mop on TV.

As odd as it seems, this film has one interesting thing in common with the recent Straight Outta Compton. Aside from both being biopics set in the same time period, late 1980's and early 90's and aside from each being nominated for only one Oscar the same year, which both lost, both films have the child of a famous person playing that famous person. In Straight Outta Compton, O'Shea Jackson, Jr. plays his real-life father, Ice Cube. In this movie, Melissa Rivers plays her real-life mother, Joan Rivers.

Russell also infuses some great moments both narratively and cinematically, which not only make the film pretty to watch but dramatically compelling as well. One of the standout moments is Joy's first time on TV. Her introduction on the lazy Susan or whatever that rotating set is called is one of the images that sticks in my mind. With her previous characters with Russell, Lawrence has been bold and over-the-top, caricatures in a sense. For those characters to get such an introduction would have been appropriate, yet I'm glad this character is the one to get it. Here, she's more subtle, more tamped down, and I like the simple, straight-forward way about her, and thus this film.

Five Stars out of Five.
PG-13 for brief strong language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 3 mins.

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