Joy is the latest offering from BAFTA award winning director David O. Russell following on from his success with Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. And once again he has teamed up with the Oscar winning trio of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.
With this line-up, and their experiences of working with each other through at least a couple of films now – including big award winners – I was hopeful that Joy could be a good start to 2016 after a rather mixed movie going year in 2015.
The film is the semi-biographical story of Joy Mangano, a self-made millionaire inventor and business woman. The official plot synopsis and trailer are below:
JOY is the wild story of a family across four generations centered [sic] on the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right. Betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love, pave the road in this intense emotional and human comedy about becoming a true boss of family and enterprise facing a world of unforgiving commerce. Allies become adversaries and adversaries become allies, both inside and outside the family, as Joy’s inner life and fierce imagination carry her through the storm she faces. Jennifer Lawrence stars, with Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Elisabeth Röhm and Dascha Polanco. Like David O. Russell’s previous films, Joy defies genre to tell a story of family, loyalty, and love.
In stark contrast to its title, this film certainly does not make for pleasant viewing. Despite what should be a compelling story and a good cast, David O. Russell has made a film without depth, soul or intrigue.
At more than two hours it is overlong and lacks impetus – you could easily cut at least 30 minutes and not actually lose anything. There is little drive to the story with uneven pacing throughout which does absolutely nothing to alleviate the clock watching boredom as the story slowly progresses to its inevitable conclusion.
Characterisation is given a back seat in favour of what I can only assume is thought to be humorous caricature for all but the titular character. This results in any attempts to engage with the audience or encourage empathy for the characters failing miserably right from the very start of the film. And whatever connection the audience can make with Joy quickly dissipates as we are subjected to a tedious scenes in which Joy seemingly willingly allows herself to be subdued and subjugated by any and every other character.
Lawrence does an admirable job as the lead, even if I did struggle to believe in her as a downtrodden mother of two children. Despite this, she does a good job with a clunky script and ensured that there were at least a couple of moments in which I genuinely cared about her character and her story, but these remained all too brief in the film as a whole.
Like much of their recent offerings, Cooper and De Niro were merely adequate without ever providing anything of substance or importance to roles that could quite frankly have been filled by any jobbing actor with absolutely nothing lost. Of the remaining cast, only Joy’s ex-husband and best friend offer anything close to decent, but even they are all too familiar with viewers of similar films as O. Russell does nothing to delve beneath the surface and create anything close to a three dimensional character.
The film repeatedly reverts to common and generic tropes and cliches, possibly the worst of which was Lawrence’s “cutting hair = new person” scene. This plot device is a poor substitute for real character and story development and had the added annoyance of Lawrence having to wear an obvious and noticeable wig in other scenes shot after, but appear in the film before, the hair cutting scene (apologies for taking away one of the few moments of intrigue in the film – wondering why she was wearing a wig when in the last scene she had her normal hair).
From a story that should make for compelling viewing, O. Russell has managed to create a turgid and pedestrian bore of a film. Lawrence does her best to ignite some brief flickers of life but in the end fails to escape the quagmire of cliche, caricature and plodding plot devices that do nothing to inspire anything of substance or significance in more than two hours of dreary tedium.