Joy tells the story of, well, Joy (Lawrence), a woman who was told from a young age by her grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd), that she would grow up to do great things. This prediction came from the fact that as a child, Joy was always creating and building little dioramas and inventions. However, life gets in the way of our greatest plans and it is no different with Joy. By the time the audience meets her as an adult, she has two kids from a failed marriage to Tony (Edgar Ramirez) and is supporting both her ex-husband and her mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), who all live in the same house—Tony lives in the basement. Along comes her lothario father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), who needs a place to stay now that his latest relationship has gone kaput. Rudy owns an auto repair shop, which is run by his other daughter—Joy’s half-sister—Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), who doesn’t really get along with Joy that much. Eventually, Rudy meets Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), a wealthy widow. While on Trudy’s boat, Joy gets stuck mopping up a broken wine glass and in doing so, she cuts up her hands pretty badly. Inspiration strikes and she comes up with the idea of a self-straining mop. Joy approaches Trudy to invest in her idea and then proceeds to take the advice of her family members when it comes to figuring out production costs and sharing her patent with another company that has a similar idea. Tony knows someone who might be able to help Joy sell her mop and she ends up at QVC where she meets Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), who gives Joy a chance. Will she succeed and fulfill Mimi’s prediction that she will become a powerful matriarch?
With American Hustle, David O. Russell was accused of imitating Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Well, with Joy, for at least the first thirty minutes or so, it feels like Russell is imitating Wes Anderson. All the characters, save for Joy, are so wacky and eccentric, nothing at the start of the film feels real. Anderson can get away with that because he couches his movies in these whimsical worlds he creates, but Joy operates in the real world—the story is loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop. It all feels very forced and clunky. Once Joy comes up with the idea for the Miracle Mop—a name that no one uses in the film, but appears on the screen of the QVC broadcast—the plot kicks in and Joy becomes a much better film. However, that opening quirkiness leads to the tone being all over the place and the audience wondering just what the hell the film is about. The rest of the film, while good, isn’t good enough to erase that initial misstep. I think Russell, who also wrote the screenplay, needed some help in crafting the story. The script is kind of all over the place until it settles into its groove and another screenwriter could have helped to smooth that out.
All the characters seem to have their one quirk or single thing that defines them and Russell mines it to death. Rudy is the cad. Terry is the shut-in. Trudy is rich. Tony is a singer. Everyone does well with what they’re given, though, despite playing such one note characters. Joy is the only character who has any real nuance to her. Once again, Jennifer Lawrence is playing older than she really is and she does really well with it. She really is the main reason to see this film. The rest of the cast is good too, but Lawrence is truly the star here. I would have liked to have seen more of Cooper on screen with her, because the two of them have great chemistry, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Overall, Joy is good, but not great and unfortunately for David O. Russell, after The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, people expect great. Lawrence does a great job, as do her co-stars, but it would have meant more if the film around them was better. See the film for Lawrence, but best to catch it once it hits Blu-ray or cable.