Sunday, December 27, 2015

Review: Joy

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Part drama about a businesswoman coming into her own and part wacky comedy about a royally dysfunctional family - oh yeah, and also the story about the creation of a mop - David O. Russell's "Joy" is a little all over the place. But while it's far from being one of the idiosyncratic director's best movies, it's undeniably filled with solid performances, amusing flights of fancy and the work of a singular vision.

The picture follows the true - well, at least, partially - story of Joy Mangano, a Long Island woman who invented the Miracle Mop, but also apparently holds more than 100 patents. She is played here by Russell muse Jennifer Lawrence, who gives some gravitas to the character, while letting the rest of the cast play for laughs.

Her mother (Virginia Madsen) stays in bed all day and watches soap operas, which occasionally take center stage in the story, while her serially betrothed father (Robert De Niro), who is divorced from Madsen's character, moves back into the house and lives in the basement with his nemesis, Tony (Edgar Ramirez), Joy's ex-husband and a wannabe Tom Jones. There's also a jealous sister, a grandmother (Diane Ladd) who is always attempting to boost Joy's confidence and our heroine's two young daughters.

As the film opens, Joy - who works odd jobs to feed her children - has recently seen one of her inventions flop, but she is inspired after being forced to clean up a mess with a mop, leading to her hands being cut by broken pieces of glass. Therefore, she comes up with the idea for the revolutionary Miracle Mop, which enables users to mop up an entire floor with its yards and yards of cloth, which can be thrown in the laundry, and prevents its owners from having to get their hands near the cleaning end.

To get started, Joy loans money from her father's new girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini), who was formerly married to a successful businessman and requires Joy to answer four ridiculous questions before getting the loan. She takes her concept to Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), a soft spoken but excitable executive at QVC, who finally agrees to give her some airtime, where her mop takes off.

From the start, Joy finds herself in constant struggle not only with her adversaries in business and manufacturers, who attempt to rip her off, but also her own family. Her sister attempts to undermine her, her father says aloud how little confidence he has in her and Rossellini's Trudy immediately wants a return on her loan.

Russell has said that he meant for "Joy" to be thematically in line with such classics as "The Godfather" and "Citizen Kane" and there's a final passage in the picture that is obviously an homage to the former, although it also seemed to give a nod to "There Will Be Blood," but bowling pins were thankfully not utilized.

"Joy" often veers wildly in tone, from wacky comedy to a serious drama about the dark side of American capitalism. There's always a fair amount going on and not all of it works. The scenes involving the soap opera are good for a laugh at first but, perhaps, are a little too in abundance and Ladd's character is originally established as the film's narrator, although this is dropped fairly early in the picture and only moderately brought back at a later point.

Aside from the quirkier aspects of the film, what makes "Joy" ultimately work is Lawrence's great onscreen presence and strong work here. There are a number of scenes where she shines, but two of my favorites are one in which she freezes up while live on TV attempting to sell her mop only to regain her composure and another during which she learns how to be tough and scares a guy trying to swindle her in a hotel room without even having to be menacing.

As I'd mentioned, "Joy" is not one of my favorite Russell films, whose best work includes "Three Kings" and "American Hustle." But similar to his other movies, it's a compelling and offbeat tale of dreamers and oddballs and, quite possibly, the only movie ever made about a mop.

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