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Monday, December 28, 2015

(Jesse's Take) Joy 2015 * * * 1/2 Stars

JoyDirector: David O. Russell
Year: 2015
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez

For the third time in as many years, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro are appearing in a film by the freewheeling David O. Russell. Make no mistake about it though, this is strictly JLaw's show. She plays housewife-turned mop inventor, Joy Mangano. In 2015's Joy (my latest review), Lawrence doesn't push her character too hard. Her performance is raw, underplayed, and it doesn't feel like she's grandstanding (or clamoring for an Oscar like in Russell's two previous flicks). This is probably the best work she's ever done and the movie despite having a sort of pat ending, is David O.'s strongest since 2004's I Heart Huckabees.

Anyway, Joy's look is bleak and its statement suggests that events are slightly based on a true story. There's a fantasy element involved here, a dash of whimsy, and a vibe akin to the age old tale of "Cinderella". Joy's trailer tagline reads, "FIND IT". What I found mind you, was a sense of solace right after the closing credits came down. The only "joy" in the world is to begin. Duh.

Russell who usually directs with messy fortitude, parlays things straightforward this time around. And for the first time in a while, his musical soundtrack (including lost long Rolling Stones nuggets, Bee Gees relics, and Cream favorites) really does fit the scenes and the rhythms of the actors/actresses. In Joy, he bullies and frustrates his viewership only to have them salivate for his muse to achieve the taxing, American dream. It's a bruising journey containing themes of cynical consumerism, unnecessary self-doubt, and family dysfunctionality (a David O. Russell mainstay).

The story is as follows: Joy Mangano (Lawrence) is a single mother with two kids and an ex-husband who lives in her basement (Tony Miranda played by Edgar Ramirez). Her mother, her father, and her grandmother also live there too. Her mom (Virginia Madsen as Terry Mangano) does nothing but sit on the bed and indulge in daytime soaps. Her pops (Robert De Niro as Rudy Mangano) runs an auto shop and shares said basement with Tony after getting kicked to the curb (by one of his ex-wives). Joy always the creative type, works at an airport and is the poster child for misery. On an impulse, she decides to invent a revolutionary mop after spilling wine during a family boating trip. Unable to sell it by way of getting a loan from Rudy's girlfriend (Trudy played by Isabella Rossellini), Joy ventures to a home shopping network to get people to see its genius by purchasing thousands in bulk. The guy who helps her out, believes in her, and gets the ball rolling is executive Neil Walker (played by Bradley Cooper). Walker quips, "all right Godspeed, gold luck, here we go". Indeed.

Now for the majority of Joy's 124-minute running time, Russell opts to make Lawrence's Mangano a veritable centrifuge. This semi-fictional character is under a strict microscope. Everything is on her, everyone judges her from a distance, and every other trouper (De Niro, Cooper, Madsen, Elizabeth Rohm) seems to be in her gleaming foreground. This again, harks back to the fantasy element I boasted about in the first paragraph. Nevertheless, with a couple of finger points, a couple of heavy breaths, and all kinds of starry-eyed nuances, Jennifer Lawrence just kills it. Academy Award nomination beckoning? I sure hope so.

In conclusion, certain critics (not this one) seem to think that Joy's premise contains nothing that's at stake. I say hogwash. Sure were talking about selling a mop here but in jest, a woman's livelihood, dignity, financial standing, and sense of belonging (to her family) are forcefully on the line. According to the movie, Joy Mangano's world is a cruel one, filled with double-crossing business associates, cutthroat network bosses, resentful half-sisters, and buzzkill fathers. And yeah its ending (as mentioned earlier) has the need to wrap things up nice and neat. No matter. For ninety percent of Joy's running time, you sense that this is the culmination of everything bountiful to David O. Russell's, decade-plus career. It's the cockamamie, reverie fest he was born to make. Amen. My rating: 3 and a half stars.

Of note: In Joy's early third act, you have Melissa Rivers deadpanning her late mother in a cameo via the QVC network. She plays Joan Rivers in a segment where she's selling product and wink winking to the audience. Neat. Also in bits and spurts, I had no problem with Joy Mangano's grandmother (played by Diane Ladd) narrating Joy's roller coaster plight. I just wish it was sprinkled more evenly throughout. Oh well, just a minor oversight.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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