Before heading into Joy, I remember saying to my friend, “This Jennifer Lawrence movie looks like it’s going to be really Jennifer Lawrence-y. Peak J-Law.” And to be honest, that was not inaccurate. But you also can’t help but be drawn into the story she’s depicting. This woman went through A LOT to get this damn mop made, and after seeing what she had to do to get it all done, it makes perfect sense that a ballsy, cool chick like Jennifer was David O. Russell’s number one choice for the role. But more on that later.
Joy follows the story of Joy Mangano, the creator of the Miracle Mop (among other inventions), as told from the perspective of her grandmother. It begins with Joy’s dreamy, aspirational childhood, before cutting to her present day situation, which is much less idyllic. Her house is full with her divorced parents, her ex husband, her grandmother, and her two young children, as she struggles to bear the brunt of the expenses.
Though likely playing a bit older, Jennifer otherwise feels like a great pick to play Joy – coming across as the relatable housewife but also as full of enough gumption to really tell off a man when she’s been wronged. You want to root for her. Robert De Niro perfectly embodies that relative who means well, and who, you genuinely believe is coming from a place of love, but also possibly never really picked up on how you’re supposed to speak to another human being. And he’s so wrapped up in finding his next paramore that he isn’t exactly concerned with how the family will make ends meet, instead remaining perfectly content in leaving that all on Joy, quickly eviscerating her with words at any misstep.
Isabella Rossellini lends a hand in this criticism, piling on like that great aunt at Thanksgiving who knew you’d still be single because you never wear your hair down. The way she uses her accent to come off as both charming and terrifying depending on who she’s speaking to is quite the feat – and very entertaining.
On the surface Virginia Madsen didn’t offer much as Joy’s basically catatonic mother, who spends most of the film resigned to her bed watching ridiculous soap operas (which employ the iconic Susan Lucci!). However, her portrayal of the heartbroken woman is so quirky it adds a comic relief to the two-hour drama. Rounding out the cast, Édgar Ramírez and Bradley Cooper both pair well with Lawrence, working as Joy’s ex husband and confidant and a ‘friend in commerce’ respectively. Orange Is the New Black’s Dascha Polanco also makes a cameo as Joy’s lifelong best friend.
The cast is great and they generally work well together, and though Joy’s story is fascinating, the movie still manages to feel a bit disjointed. For one, though it’s about Joy, the movie is told from the perspective of her grandmother, but their relationship isn’t really developed enough for that point of view to make sense.
It would seem more fitting if anyone other than Joy would be telling the story of Joy, that it would be her daughter, Christie, with whom she clearly shares a strong bond throughout the film. It’s also strange – almost in a way similar to that scene in American Sniper – to notice the lack of screen time Joy’s son makes in the movie. A door even blocks him from view when the beleaguered mother checks in on him one night in bed as he suffers from a cold.
There were a number of elaborate plot devices in the film, such as flashbacks to Joy’s childhood, the telling of the story from her grandmother’s perspective, and inter-cutting scenes from a wild soap opera. And honestly Joy’s story is interesting enough without it. She goes through so many ups and downs to get where she is in the end that all of that extra stuff just doesn’t feel necessary.
Having seen Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle I have to say that Joy is certainly not my favorite collaboration of Jennifer Lawrence and the David O. Russell crew. However, it really does have a compelling story and what could be more of a holiday treat than the theater full of movies portraying bad ass ladies?