You can’t make a bio pic with only a sliver of the truth and expect the rest of us to take it seriously.
That is, however, exactly what David O. Russell did with his latest venture “Joy.” It’s the third film he’s written and directed with Jennifer Lawrence as the lead and it’s by far the worst. His “American Hustle” wasn’t for everyone, although I found it to be fun after you watched it about 10 times. And “Silver Linings Playbook” is a rom-com breath of fresh air.
But “Joy” kind of sticks, which is sad because it didn’t have to. The film is supposed to tell the story of inventor Joy Mangano, the woman who created the Miracle Mop and became an HSN star and president of her own company. Her’s is a classic tale of rags to riches with crazy events like getting the idea to invent a special mop, oh, and the fact that her own family sued her for the ownership of her company after the mop’s success. But don’t worry. That last fascinating detail is briefly mentioned in the movie before we quickly move on.
The real story of Mangano is probably really fascinating and inspirational and since Russell says he spent a good deal of time when writing the film talking with Mangano you’d think he would have chosen to include some of the more interesting facts of her life. Instead, Russell throws everything but the kitchen sink so to speak into “Joy” and the film looses any appeal. So many little details are forgotten because he’s trying so hard to make it a story about an inspirational woman. If he would have just told the story of a badass inventor lady we would have easily found the inspiration of the story. It’s already in the story of Joy herself, but when things in movies are so painfully spelled out for an audience the thing looses all its appeal.
“Joy” feels like a rushed job, a film that was quickly put together. The great bio pics find the story, the “why this person is important” factor and then let the audience decide what to do with it. The story of the woman who invented a mop is fascinating, but we’re never given a hint as to why. Why then should we be inspired by such a weak plot and character? Many details are lost in “Joy” and many weird elements (the kitchen sinks) are roadblocks that throw the audience off the scent of whatever it is this film is trying to tell us. Sometimes the random grandma is telling Joy’s story, sometimes there’s random editing jumps, sometimes Joan Rivers shows up, and sometimes Joy does a shady business deal with a cowboy and then hangs out in fake snow.
But that’s not to say that “Joy” doesn’t have some redeeming qualities. At times it’s funny and sometimes even relatable. Imagine that! Bradley Cooper makes a fun appearance and Joy’s annoyingly crazy mother is a hoot when she falls in love with their plumber. Joy’s well-meaning but nosey family is something we can all relate to. Her ex-husband Tony is super adorable and the ex-couple’s relationship is very endearing.
But notice in the above paragraph that one big thing is missing; Lawrence. Here, then, is the film’s real problem. Love her or hate her, J-Law has proven time and time again that she can act. She’s the actress that an audience wants to get behind and root for. It’s unfortunate then, that she is so underutilized in “Joy.” If we were supposed to be so inspired by the time we walked out of the theater, why was it so hard to connect to the actual character of Joy? She wasn’t who I was expecting, no, wanting her to be. We can only assume that the real Mangano is a fearless, sassy East Coaster who rose to the top of her game by being a badass that didn’t take no for an answer. Lawrence’s character, however, barely finds the courage to stand up to an annoying half sister, let alone has the feel of someone who can create an empire. In short, I couldn’t buy what was trying to be sold to me.
In a world where women can be anything and are inspiring badass female movie characters all the time (Rey from “The Force Awakens” anyone?), why is it so difficult to bring the story of Joy to the screen? A decent director like Russell and a brilliant star like Lawrence should understand the badass female character formula by now.
Don’t waste your time on “Joy.” Go see “Star Wars” again, honestly.