Saturday, January 16, 2016

Joy Review

So, so many biopics. They're everywhere, and I fear them. Cinema can take us literally anywhere, a medium in which the only limitations to storytelling are what the human mind can concoct and yet week after week, year after year the moviegoing public is inundated with the words "Based on a true story" with a focus on a single person that left an indelible mark. I fear these films because they so often fall victim to relying on the same tired tropes. A life can be absolutely fascinating but the fatigue of familiarity can wipe all of that away in a hurry.

I don't recall every detail of the trailers and television commercials that were trying to sell the world on the new film Joy, so I can't remember if it was made clear that this was a picture derived from a non-fiction story. All I remember thinking was, based on this you would have no idea that the character being played by Jennifer Lawrence was the real life inventor Joy Mangano, the woman behind the Miracle Mop. Now I don't know nearly enough to be able to determine which pieces of this film are true and which are total bullshit meant to entertain, but I feel pretty confident in assuming there is far more of the latter than the former in Joy

Honestly, that's probably a good thing, because while far from perfect and at times quite phony, this is a pretty good and really entertaining movie.

I have only ever really loved one David O. Russell film and that remains true today, as Silver Linings Playbook stole my heart instantly and after multiple revisits it still has it. I admire him greatly though for the ability to take a story that doesn't sound all that intriguing on the face of it and making it unique and compelling. Try explaining the premise of Joy to someone without telling them that Jennifer Lawrence or Bradley Cooper are in it, see if you can sell them on it. The true story of the lady who invented a mop. Good luck. Yet, thanks to some fun storytelling and a terrific lead performance from the aforementioned Lawrence, it works.

I used the word phony before and I should probably elaborate on that a bit. At times O. Russell takes his gift for making the mundane a bit more magnificent and goes a little too far and the film strays a bit towards the ridiculous. Early in the film when approaching her fathers girlfriend for financial assistance to get her business off and running, Joy is asked to answer what she would do in a scenario involving a gun on the table in front of her, which is then handled in a very on the nose fashion later when she walks straight up to a gentleman with a shotgun and asks permission to fire away. The scene takes her strong, independent identity and takes it a bit too far and in the end just feels out of place. 

Another example of this, and the most egregious of anything is towards the very end of the picture when a young couple approach Joy with an invention idea. The entire vibe of the sequence makes it impossible not to roll your eyes, with an emotional young woman much like she once was over her hopes of finding the american dream and the forced dialogue from Joy to announce her willingness to help. Perhaps this actually happened, and maybe the real Joy Mangano used her success as a means to assist many others struggling like she did, but this scene is impossible to take as seriously as it wants you to.

Despite its issues, Joy is a biopic that at least tries to be different and for that I am appreciative. I will always take ambitions going a bit too far over playing it too safe.



  1. I have no idea what it is about David O. Russel, but every time I see a trailer to his movie, or even hear people talking about what the movie is about, I just have no desire to see it. Nothing strikes me as interesting, and I guess he's just one of those guys that doesn't invite a spark in me.

    1. My typical reaction to his work is similar to what I felt here with Joy. Liked it a lot, but didn't love it and I never will. Revisits don't help. However, Silver Linings Playbook really grabbed me the first time and every time after, and I think for me I felt how much that story personally meant to him when I watched it. O. Russell adapted that book because his son suffers from a mental illness and it meant a lot to them, and I could feel that throughout. The rest of his films, Joy included, just don't have that "it" factor even if they are well made.

  2. I give it 4/5. I thought Lawrence performance was great. Only a few scenes took me out of it (like the soap opera scenes and that clunky scene with the young couple you mentioned). Overall, I can't complain about Lawrence's Golden Globe win.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Lawrence was asked to pretty much carry the film as Cooper and De Niro were certainly supporting roles (among others) and she did a hell of a job.