Directed and written by: David O’Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper
Review Written by John Slavnik
Let’s discuss happy endings. Animation legend Don Bluth (American Tail, Land Before Time) had a particular way to get to his film’s happy endings: torture your characters as much as the G rating would allow. Kill their parents, separate them from their parents, have them constantly run into people that wish them harm and teasing a happy moment only to pull the rug out therefore traumatizing your character to an even greater extent. Once through all these traumatizing endeavors (both for the main character and the audience), the happy ending seems well deserved and justified.
So what does a legend of children’s films have to do with David O. Russell’s PG-13 drama Joy? The structure. Joy, the film, seems hell-bent on torturing Joy, played by Jennifer Lawrence. She’s a single mother and has a terrible job at an airport, her father is a self-destructive jagoff, her half-sister seems to be out to make her life miserable in every conceivable way, her ex-husband lives in the basement, and her mother has seemed to fold into herself, only ever watching a cheesy soap opera. The only “joy” in her life is her Grandmother (Diane Ladd), who gives her support when everyone else seems pre-occupied with tearing her down and provides the film with her own account of the story through her narration.
Russell also seems fixated with the Cinderella story with the half-sister, the on looking and supportive grandmother. This movie’s “ball” is Joy’s “Miracle Mop”. Joy is established early in the film as an inventor of sorts and she invents the “Miracle Mop” after cutting her hands on glass stuck inside a wool mop. Joy wants to patent and sell the mop to get herself out of the hell that has been imposed upon her. Despite this invention the film still never gives her a break. She faces troubles from financiers, advertisers and businessmen, the most notable being Bradley Cooper’s Neil Walker as the head of QVC.
Bradley Cooper is the weakest part of this film. The camera treats Walker as if he is the second coming but all he turns out to be is a push-over executive played blandly by Cooper. He is especially weak compared to Jennifer Lawrence’s brilliantly emotional performance. It’s a film that works for its happy moments through all the shots of Jennifer Lawrence in pain, shock or silent resignation. David O. Russell seems to have a fascination with deadbeat families. This family seems especially cruel and I believe it’s in this film’s favor. While its methods of getting you there may be manipulative to some, you still feel sorry for Joy and you want her to succeed. The film washes over you and you feel what Joy feels. The film is also a treat to look at. Grainy film and creative camera movements bring you into this world, and you want to stay for the entire 120-minute runtime. It gets a B+ from me.