Sunday, January 03, 2016

OVP: Joy (2015)

Film: Joy (2015)
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Iasabella Rossellini, Bradley Cooper
Director: David O. Russell
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Actress-Jennifer Lawrence)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Watching Joy, I was reminded of the fact that I grew up in the 1990's, when the Miracle Mop was advertised on television all of the time.  I even wanted one, and I was a teenage boy who thought the only housework worth doing was re-organizing our family movie collection.  It was this that made me, as the film progressed, more excited to see how things turned out, as Joy Mangano, the woman who created the mop, as well as Huggable Hangers and Forever Fragrant (if you haven't heard of these products you've clearly never been single, eating ice cream, and watching HSN on a Saturday night like the rest of us), was a solid choice for a biopic as she's someone most everyone can recognize (or at least her products), but we don't know much about, and her story is interesting to say the least.  Unfortunately, in the arms of David O. Russell, the film's quirks and occasional ridiculousness make Joy something of an oddity.  While I shouldn't question the idea that someone make a biopic that thinks outside of the box (since I'm typically begging for such a film), Joy much like a lot of Russell's recent endeavors, tries to have its cake and eat it too.  It is a film that functions both as the story of Joy, but also on Russell wanting to regain some of the oddity that made his films so compelling years ago with products like I Heart Huckabees.  The result is a movie that satisfies no one, not people wanting a classic rags-to-riches story nor those wanting an art house film, and as a result it's his most disappointing film in years.

(Spoilers Ahead) The problem with the movie may be the fact that we never really get to understand Joy herself.  We are told from the opening narration that Joy is special, and that seems pretty darn true if you look at real life.  An employee at an airline company who was divorced with a couple of children becoming an entrepreneur and creating items that have become essential in the homes of much of Middle America is very special, and on occasion we see that in the film.  The best scenes of the movie are toward the center, when Joy meets Neil Walker (Cooper), a QVC producer whom she has to actually challenge and who realizes her potential.  Cooper and Lawrence have chemistry to the hilt, something we've learned through now three of Russell's pictures, and you can sense Russell knows that a lot of what we came for was these two together (Cooper is only shot from the waist down when he is first introduced to delay our satisfaction, though he's wearing khakis so it's not as thrilling as I just made it out to be).  When Joy, after being maligned and casually torn to shreds by her family for an hour, finally has some success and sells nearly 50,000 mops in her first hours on the air, it's electrifying and perhaps the only feel-good moment of the film that reads as genuinely earned.

The rest of the film, though, we don't really get to know Joy.  We can tell she's brilliant and supposedly tough, but the film is constantly contradicting this idea.  She's someone who holds the family together-her mother (Madsen) is basically an agoraphobic invalid addicted to soap operas (casting real-life soap stars Donna Mills, Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, and Maurice Bernard was a nice touch for the soap scenes, only beaten by Melissa Rivers playing her mother Joan in a fascinating "wait, is that really her?!?" cameo), her father is a passive aggressive failure in life and business (de Niro), her husband is a sweet but unsuccessful singer (Ramirez) and her sister is an awful, petulant, jealous two-year-old (Elisabeth Rohm).  None of these actors are particularly good (Ramirez is the best of the bunch, but it's judging on a steep curve), but Rohm's awful performance as her sister is truly misguided, and sort of hinders Lawrence.  The script doesn't give her the moment where our heroine actually tells off her father, his girlfriend (Rossellini) or Joy's sister for the horrible treatment they've dealt at her through the years, and the audience was begging for it.  The closest we get is a moment where Joy essentially finds herself signing off on a bankruptcy, and tells her sister that she is not to represent the business ever again, but it's too little.  Russell fills the cast with cartoons, people who couldn't possibly function as such horrible individuals in real life without being punched in the face on the regular, and Joy just sits there and takes it, while she's more than willing to challenge television executives and multi-millionaires?  This seems extremely doubtful, and we never get a sense of Joy's devotion to her family and what causes it since they are intent on ruining her life.  It's a fatal flaw in the script, and one that Russell can't help but absolve.

Lawrence at the center of the film is getting the bulk of the awards attention (she nabbed a Globe nomination), and while her magnetism occasionally shines through, it's this script problem that holds her back (not to mention, and I know this is the broken record for people talking about David O. Russell's collaborations with her, but it's bizarre how she's basically been cast as someone whom she is at least ten years too old to be playing onscreen-someone in their mid-thirties like Elisabeth Moss probably would have been a better choice, and could have grounded some of the moments that need a more lived-in actress).  However, even correctly casting the lead part wouldn't have saved the film.  What we have here is a great idea, poorly executed in almost every department, and one that should make Russell sincerely question whether or not he can find projects still that jive his directorial oddities with serious awards bait.  Considering that she's so young and such a compelling movie star, it'd be a pity to throw a fourth nomination toward Lawrence, both because it would clearly be the least of her nominated work and because this year's Best Actress field is so much better than this movie ever approaches.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Did you like Joy and what Jennifer Lawrence did with it, or were you hoping for something better like I was?  Which member of Joy's family did you most want to scream at from your seats?  And have you ever bought anything from HSN or QVC?  If so, share in the comments!

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