AFTER letting himself down with American Hustle, David O. Russell re-teams with Jennifer Lawrence for their third collaboration, Joy, an inspiring rags-to-riches story that, though far from a classic, rebuilds trust in the director.
Joy Mangano (Lawrence) is a single mother of two living with her kids, grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) agoraphobic soap opera-obsessed mother Terri (Virginia Madsen), her ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) and her father Rudy (Robert De Niro). Barely able to pay the bills and delegated to night shift hours, an incident involving wine glasses inspires Joy to design the Miracle Mop, which she explains can prevent wetting someone and can last, rather than purchasing more than one standard mop.
An idea that is considered ludicrous by various cynics in her family, the aim to bring the design into public life is helped by Rudy’s new girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) financing the expansion and a chance meeting with QVC personnel Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper). As the product gradually takes off, the harsh realities of business come into play, not helpful giving Joy owes Trudy’s money and has gambled on her family’s security by taking out a second mortgage. With discoveries leading to avenues that even Joy may not have expected, it seems that the real hard work might still be to come.
Teaming up with Lawrence and continuing to cast De Niro and Cooper in supporting roles runs the risk of O. Russell becoming repetitive, especially given the disappointment of their previous collaboration. However, it the solid casting at of all three, in addition to the supporting performances, that contribute to the watchable nature of the piece.
As the film progresses, one can look at the struggles that befalls our heroine, and taking note of her grandmother’s words that one day she will succeed, it is clear that we sympathise and want Joy to succeed. Watching her get there is where the film also works well for entertainment value.
In one sequence, Joy desperately attempts to persuade shoppers outside a supermarket to purchase her product with no success until her best friend steps in. All is going well in that section until Joy’s products are taken away by the police, right in front of her embarrassed ex-husband and her devastated daughter.
This is one of a few moments which depict Joy in a scenario where despite the obstacles surrounding her, she is able to find a degree of happiness and success, only for something to come in the way and quickly end this all-too-brief moment of delight. The transition from disappointment to delight to disappointment again might play as slightly predictable but when taking into account the reasons why, frustrating to see Joy in pieces, it is justifiable from the storyline perspective.
In another sequence that grips, Joy and her family sit in excitement as her product goes on QVC for the first time, only for the pitch to be rendered disastrous due to the incompetence of the host. Cue Joy storming into Walker’s office and successfully demanding a second try on the condition she does the pitch, despite never been on TV before, and you have not just entertainment, but such through a strong-willed characterisation from Lawrence.
There is this notion that occurs throughout where we query why Joy can’t be given a break. It is this constant viewpoint stemming into the mind that tells us the film has succeeded at its job, because the risk versus reward scenario only gets higher as the film continues, maintain our interest. Even if at the end, we know where it is heading, watching what is taking place until it gets there is good in itself as it make us wish more for success in Joy’s life, as well as creating a new reputation.
There are a couple of storytelling mistakes that stop the film from getting higher than where it is. The idea of having the soap opera that Terri watches become part of the story occasionally proves unwelcome though, as the film would work without it anyway. Additionally, a couple of scenarios involving supporting characters often feel like they are heading for really entertaining viewing but move on as they seem to be approaching there.
Joy gets its message of hope put across well, thanks mainly to its reliable lead from Lawrence and an often humorous support from De Niro. It also plays as a moderate return to form for O. Russell in that though it is not as engaging as Silver Linings Playbook, it certainly does better than American Hustle.