Monday, December 28, 2015

Joy (2015) wrings the American dream out

Photo Credit: Joy / 20th Century Fox
Joy Magnano has a great imagination and is encouraged by her grandmother to put it work. She can and she will change all of their lives from one of her inventions. One day, she gets an idea for a mop. It's not an ordinary mop; it has a plastic handle with hand-coiled cotton that self-wrings and can be put in the washer so it's reusable. But there's nothing like it on the market. Unfortunately, her dysfunctional family is a hindrance in taking her invention to the next level of a tangible successful business.

In this day and age, everyone of all ages is struggling to make ends meet. I thought Joy would be a refreshing rags-to-riches tale from the point of a view of a single mother to entrepreneur maven. Yet for all the potential this movie has, its many moving parts is sadly what makes it flop.

Director David O'Russell's tale comes across as a messy caricature about creativity, hard work, determination. He had great freedom with Joy Magnano's life story, of whom the film is based on. His version is told in retrospect by her grandmother, whose utmost conviction plays a major role in Joy's perseverance. We can never expect a linear cohesive film by O'Russell. Even if the story is told by one person's point of view, his chosen narrative is split between timelines, flashbacks, and even hallucinations. Everything about the production of pacing, editing, and music is all over the place. The film never feels like a singular piece of cinema, but a collage of vignettes that when meshed together aren't consistent. They don't feel as if they are told by one person but quite literally multiple personalities.

Considering how Silver Linings Playbook put then-unknown Jennifer Lawrence on the map, I thought this would be another fair vehicle for her. Joy had the potential to be her transformation into more adult roles, similar to what we witnessed to the Harry Potter stars moving away from their iconic roles. Some critics argued that Lawrence is too young to take on a role of this magnitude; a character aging over the span of thirty years. I wouldn't agree with that stance so much. The primary fault in her character and the performance is the lack of evolution.

Joy is fairly young and inexperienced. She's an accountant to her father's business, so she's not a complete newbie about finances and management. But her idea makes her open season to people trying to shake her down. Throughout most of the film, she is contending against the higher-ups at QVC and her own familial naysayers. The movie revolves around Lawrence but she doesn't have a firm grasp on the end goal. Most of her troubles are in her blind spot without tension raising the stakes. Then with a flip of a switch, in what's supposed to be her character aging twenty years, she is a persevering sass master in commerce. She doesn't really "age", just has a mature costume change. It doesn't work.

Additionally, anyone tied to Joy like her dysfunctional family doesn't truly have a genuine connection with each other or more so to her. Joy is saddled with her shut-in mother (Virginia Madsen) who lives vicariously through soap operas, a father (Robert DeNiro) who only looks out for the bottom line of his rich new wife (Isabella Rossellini), and an ex-husband (Edgard Ramirez) who comes and goes out of the picture of supporting their family. The supporting cast are an eclectic group of personalities. They should make for an interesting round of comedy or drama, but their constant quarreling feels forced and flat. Like Lawrence, they seem to be one step behind their director and without a clear vision of what he is aiming for. The camera and audiences already love these actors, yet it seems that O'Russell is failing them, or they are failing the director.

As imaginative as the title character is, it's hard to decipher what the film itself is trying to make out of its potentially compelling heroine. The 'esteemed' filmmaker is prone to taking a symbolic idea and wringing the heck out of it. O'Russell's most recent movie American Hustle recycled the notion that nothing is truly authentic; we remake ourselves to fit what we're hustling towards. Joy takes "hands" and matches it to the ideal that we all can make things. He shows every actor's hands in plenty of frames, trying to ignite that it's what you do with your hands and your ideas, how hard you work, you can make something of yourself. It's a great notion. But the story has such tunnel vision about the risk and reward of making something of value, it loses the true joy of actually succeeding.

Here's a matriarch planting the seeds for her granddaughter to embrace an ability to break the generational mold. And, Joy should go on to inspire her daughter and help out other women who are in a position similar to hers. Every movie goer, especially women, should be shouting from the rooftops at the bold and powerful statement O'Russell is attempting to express. But it doesn't feel all that exciting. Joy, as a character, comes from nothing to build an empire, and the finale of her achievement doesn't illicit euphoria or cheer. Joy, as a movie, doesn't provoke laughs or tears, or tension at all. Instead of soaking up this ambitious American dream, the possibilities are unfortunately hung out to dry.

Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Joy? What are your thoughts?


  1. This is the 2nd review in a row where I've read how disappointing it is. That's so unfortunate. I get less enthused about it every day. I try not to jump on the "Jennifer Lawrence is too young" bandwagon myself, because an actress like Scarlet Johansson for example was always playing roles where her character was much older when she was younger, but I didn't realize the film follows Joy through 30 years. Wow.

    great review!

  2. You're right--this movie had a ton of potential, but it totally flopped all over the place. AND, I love JLaw, but even she couldn't save it.

  3. Thank you! I wished it was a performance that she could've salvaged. Perhaps with her next project with O'Russell?

  4. Thank you Brittani! I tried to watch the movie with an open mind, watching interviews of the cast, etc. I was truly excited to see it...and then the performances by everyone and the direction was so stale. It's technically four generations - when she's ten years old but a child actor plays Joy at that age. :)