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Monday, December 28, 2015

(Cole's Take) Joy 2015 * * * Stars

JoyDirector: David O. Russell
Year: 2015
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro

Written by Cole Pollyea

Over the last four years, Jennifer Lawrence has teamed with director David O. Russell and actors Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper to produce three notable films. These are 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, 2013’s American Hustle, and their latest, 2015’s Joy. All three have undeniable merit, for certain, but the result of their latest collaborative effort is Jennifer Lawrence’s finest performance to date and the initiation of a three way tie for O’Russell’s second best film (behind I Heart Huckabees).

Yielding an unjustly low Tomatometer score of 58%, Joy follows the plight of an innovative and exceedingly capable young woman, Joy Mangano, who is burdened by her uncooperative, soap opera-addicted mother, her dim-witted father (De Niro), her broke ex-husband, two kids, and the sole responsibility of paying the bills. After years of working her hands to the bone to keep up with the livelihood of the family living under her roof, she comes to the realization that she has been spinning her wheels with no forward progress since she graduated from high school, and, with the slight support and cooperation of her father, controlling sister-in-law, and ex-husband, she embarks on an entrepreneurial journey in an effort to move up in the oppressive and capitalistic world and to redeem all of her lost time.

Joy is, without doubt, O’Russell’s most engrossing and straightforward piece yet. He doesn’t meander, and he doesn’t lose focus for a second. He successfully incorporates crushing themes of consumerism and bigotry, and lets said themes play out in the despair of the viewer’s eyes. He constructs the characters in Joy’s life very simply, but gets away with it. They are cardboard-cutouts in the best sense possible because they leave the viewers very sure about Joy’s family dynamics and the way that she feels about each person in the film. He leaves all of the film's complications to the obstacles that she faces along the journey, and this results in seamless and absorbing plot development.

Bradley Cooper comes in after a decent amount of screen time, and he plays the QVC rep through which Joy is able to advertise her product on television. His role, as her personal connection to the non-personal realm of business, is key and his performance is exactly what you’d expect from Cooper. From a wardrobe/makeup perspective, his appearance properly conveys the high stakes associated with his job along with the same level of anxiety that the audience experiences during the majority of his screen time. Despite being draped in professional clothes with his consistently great haircut, he looks like he’s operating on three to four hours of sleep and his tie is tied loosely in every frame. De Niro performs on the same level; he delivers lines with gusto and adheres purposefully to the character of Joy’s father: a dull, but good-hearted man who has accepted into his heart the same condemning ideology that threatens to corrupt Joy’s success: that successful business is done by only the elite male.

Make no mistake, however, it’s all about Lawrence here. From her first scene, it was clear that she was going to shine as the housewife-turned-entrepreneur who is tested on every level. She wears anguish on her face when duty calls and kicks butt when she has to. It seems as though this is the role she was meant to play, as her portrayal feels comfortable and just plain right every step of the way. I foresee strong Oscar consideration for her work here.

All merits aside, Joy does have two setbacks that keep it from being a near-perfect film, and those are its obligatory ending and its imprecise voiceover. Seen many times before in many different movies, this aggravating sort of ending didn’t hurt Joy but certainly didn’t send itself off effectively by any stretch of the imagination. It was an attempt by the filmmakers to encapsulate all of the movie’s ideals and the characters’ denouements in one scene which was suppose to affirm our faith in what we had just watched for the last two hours. Ultimately, this goal was not reached and this scene was extremely unsatisfying. Furthermore, the movie is sort of narrated by Joy’s grandmother who, from an early age, was the only person in her life who voiced her support of Joy. Many times over, she is shown conveying her faith in Joy and telling her that she can be an amazing young entrepreneur or a great woman or a strong matriarch or a wonderful parent or a good person… Or something like that. And this is the problem; her presence in Joy’s life is too vague and her effect on Joy’s path and self-image is undefined if at all evident. Maybe her effect on Joy was more profound in real life, but based what we see in the movie, she was simply not influential enough to have the sole narration over the proceedings, which was sporadic at best.

Conclusively, Joy is a wonderful tale of a strong woman who made her way in a man's world and, unlike the filmmakers' and actors' previous movies, it is suitable for a family viewing. From me, it garners a three (out of four) star rating and ranks second on the list of O' Russell's works. In addition to serving as an inspirational biopic, it is also a film that harbors a moving performance and one that divulges formidable themes about society. It's one that won't be (completely) ignored by the Academy this year, and one that shouldn't be ignored by anybody else either. 

Written by Cole Pollyea

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