Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: Joy

by Adam Riske
David O. Russell hits a speed bump.

Joy is an unusual movie, but not in a good way. Despite a few strong performances, I found Joy to be only mildly interesting. It’s better in certain scenes on their own than as a whole. And it feels messy. Boy, does it feel like a movie charting a course without a compass. There’s something to be said about watching a movie and feeling like its filmmaker has a sure hand on the material. In the case of Joy, I feel the opposite to be true. It takes a long time to get going and even longer to figure out what the filmmakers are trying to accomplish telling the life story of entrepreneur Joy Mangano.
One thought ran through my head throughout much of Joy: can a good movie be made out of the story of the inventor of the Miracle Mop? Then I remembered, sure, you can make a good movie about any topic or subject. I think it was Roger Ebert who once said that it’s not about what a movie is about but rather how it is about it. The problem with Joy is that it takes this adage to its tipping point. This is one of the least cinematic life stories that I can imagine putting on film. I wonder if that was a challenge that David O. Russell set out for himself in making Joy. Nevertheless, coming off of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Joy is a disappointment.

The performances in Joy are not the problem. In fact, they are quite good. Jennifer Lawrence is predictably solid as Joy – totally charismatic and interesting to watch. The only issue I have with her for this movie is that she seems too young to be playing Joy Mangano at certain parts of the story. I know it’s possible for a woman in her mid-20s to be divorced and have multiple children, but in the case of Lawrence she still looks too youthful to be dealing with the problems she is for as long as she has been in the movie. Is that a stupid criticism? Maybe. Lawrence is one of the best actors out there right now, it’s just that filmmakers seem to be so excited to have her in their movie that they are not always thinking about if she’s age appropriate for the roles she’s being given. This was an issue I had with her in American Hustle as well.
The other standout performances include Robert De Niro as Joy’s father who is, once again, great at playing characters who want to be good men but have ugly characteristics about them. Bradley Cooper brightens up every scene he’s in as QVC magnate Neil Walker. Whenever he is on screen in Joy, the movie soars. He’s so sincere and dynamic that it almost makes you want to watch a movie about him more than Joy Mangano. Also strong is the sweet, sensitive performance from Edgar Ramirez as Joy’s ex-husband and advisor Tony and the rarely seen Isabell Rossellini as Joy’s primary financial backer.

The main issue with Joy, for me, is that it tells the wrong story about the life and family of Joy Mangano. At one point in the movie it’s said that there was legal in-fighting between the inventor and her family, but that is not the story the movie Joy is telling. That could be a really fascinating, grounded movie. Instead it is telling the story of Joy Mangano’s launch of the Miracle Mop, her battles with the products investors and manufacturers (over molds and patents and such) and a really uninteresting parallel structure with how her life is similar to one of the soap operas her mother (played well by Virginia Madsen) watches ad nauseam. This is done by including multiple fantasy sequences that mirror soap operas on television.
The movie is trying to make a point that Joy is constantly at battle with being a dreamer (as represented by her grandmother played by Diane Ladd) and being a realist (as signified by her father and sister played by Elisabeth Rohm) and that it’s not until she finds a way to make the two coalesce that she becomes a success in business. That’s an interesting idea; it’s just the way this movie tells it is not engaging enough to recommend. O. Russell’s last few movies felt effortless and glided on the charisma of its stars and repartee from their dialogue. Joy, on the other hand, feels leaden and strenuous – a good movie trying to break itself out of a mediocre one. A winning streak has to end at some point and it appears this is where David O. Russell’s temporarily comes to a close. I’m still very interested in seeing what this exciting filmmaker has up his sleeve next, but I’ll chalk up Joy to being an ambitious failure. At least it’s ambitious.

18 comments:

  1. Sad to hear you didn't like it Mr Riske. For some reason, it never dragged for me. There were a couple of points where I thought it was coming to an end and then it just didn't, but then I was swept away by the newest development. Really, I just lost all sense of time I gotta say. I agree with you that the story about how Rudy eventually tries to sue his daughter is perhaps more interesting, but (perhaps lazily) I feel like Russell just ignored it to tell the story he wanted to tell which was about a happier family unit, full of love but not much business sense. And I'm okay with that I suppose. Because the movie really really works as an underdog story, and I wouldn't want to take that away from it. But yeah I agree about it being more grounded the other way, and possibly better. I just feel like Russell couldn't let go of his comic, romantic sensibilities

    Also, the soap opera stuff was really funny to me. Dunno. I think that was just me.

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    1. I agree with you, Tristan, it's not just you. I felt the momentum was there from the beginning and never let up until maybe the last part of the second half which I felt could've have been better. I really thought the soap opera stuff was great too and I loved that they used real soap stars for it! (I recognized almost all of them from having to endure One Life to Live and General Hospital as a kid.) The entire supporting cast was great right down to the smallest, classy move of having Melissa Rivers play her late mother, Joan. O. Russell takes what could have been a very mundane scene where Cooper is showing Lawrence the inner workings of QVC and makes it incredibly exciting and tense. The film kind of reminded me of some of PTA's earlier stuff regarding camera movements keeping the heartbeat pumping and the dialogue inter-cutting between the characters which also kept the pace flowing perfectly.

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    2. SPOILERS for Joy.........What did you guys think of them making Joy into a sort of gangster by the end (e.g. the pick up the gun speech, the fact that at the end she's set up like she's the Godfather with helpers and people coming to see her in a dimly lit office etc.)?

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    3. That's the part I have trouble with. I understand what O. Russell was doing there, finally having her take this "larger than her" thing head on in an aggressive fashion, but it did feel a little too "Godfather" like as you state. It didn't really feel in sync with the overall tone of the film for me.

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    4. Yeah that was a bit much, especially for me that "never talk about my business" thing (*cringe*). But that was in the trailer so I was ready. The epilogue was weird, I love how it was shot, I thought the godfather thing was just confusing, I loved seeing Bradley Cooper again and then it went just a bit long. I really loved the reveal of the narrator though, I thought that was a way more impactful, thematically rich way to do the "text on screen" at the end.

      Also, all this godfather talk, anyone think that scene where she goes to the bathroom at the molds place could have gone very very differently? Ahahaha

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  2. I kind of ... can't stand this movie. OK, that's a little hyperbolic, but still. At first I was enjoying it, but I slowly became more irritated the longer it trudged on.

    Nearly every decision David O. Russell made had me scratching my head. His direction was schizophrenic -- in once scene he's channeling Wes Anderson (very mannered, very deliberate, very symmetrical, very stage-y) and in the next he's aping Scorsese(as he's wont to do [music, camera movements, etc.]).

    The character's motivations are all over the place. There are too many coincidences. Things don't progress organically -- they simply follow plot beats. The soap opera stuff annoyed me. The kitschy late '80s/early '90s costuming was as distracting as it was in American Hustle (for every character except JLaw -- she's a super-cool 2015 badass chick). Everything screamed style over substance.

    And why does Joy even have a son?

    Good review, Adam.

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    1. I love everything that you hated about this. Especially Joy's non-screentime-having son :)

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    2. Thanks Doug. The more I think about this movie the more it annoys me.

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  3. Your review of Joy hits the nail on the head, so I'll avoid parroting any of it. Just want to say I can't wait for David O Russell's upcoming Shaquille O Neal biopic with Lawrence as Shaq. I'm sure she'll be able to transcend the age, sex and race factors and act her way to award consideration.

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  4. This was just a bad, bad movie by a brilliant director. I would even rank it below I Heart Huckabees as at least I will watch that on TV when I come across it. I dread even thinking about watching this muddled, tedious film again. O. Russell became enamored with JLaw and Joy in such a way that he had blinders on to the critical lulls and disjointed storylines that plague the film. Someone, anyone, should have taken him aside and forced him to nix the entire soap opera device he so heavily utilizes to such lackluster effect. That's the point the film lost me and O. Russell would have to do double time to spin magic in order to right the course. Sadly, he's never able to hit his intended mark and Joy will go down as one of the unique misfires in an acclaimed career.

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  5. Man, I really liked Joy but it seems like most people didn't. Just curious, did anyone like Nailed (a.k.a Accidental Love)? I was one of the few who thought it was pretty damn good. Matter of fact, I don't think I haven't liked an O. Russell film and I just thought about that without ever noticing (I haven't seen The Fighter though) so maybe his voice just somehow resonates with me. Matter of fact, I remember seeing Flirting with Disaster in the theater, totally random on a whim, hadn't seen Spanking the Monkey yet and didn't know the name O. Russell, and thinking it was the funniest movie I saw that year. So yeah, I think something about him speaks to me.

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  6. Man, this film was a mess. Lawerence is good, but really bad choices made by a director I often quite like. A couple scenes in particular (with her dad telling her he shouldnt have encouraged her as well as the scene where she is helping the African American family) ring false and flat. Possibly the most dead air of any O Russell film.

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    1. The scene where De Niro tells her that she needs to file for bankruptcy and that he shouldn't have encouraged her worked for me. I actually felt frustrated for her character at that point.

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    2. That scene with Deniro was comical in how heavy-handed the dialogue was in tearing Joy down. How did it make it past a first draft?

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    3. yes I agree Michael, the script feels rushed

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  7. It appears hell has frozen over, and for the first time I disagree with Mr. Riske's opinion of a film. That's okay though, it had to happen eventually, we were on a good roll for a while, you were my go-to reviewer this year and you pointed me in the right direction everytime (End of the Tour, The Gift, Love & Mercy). I just loved the relationship of Joy and her family. I wanted her to succeed so bad and I wanted her to be validated by her family and friends. I thought De Niro was especially good as the father who was willing to speak his mind no matter how it made Joy feel. That's how a lot of fathers tend to be.

    I didn't know anything about the true story going into the film, so the fact that Lawrence is too young to play this part never occurred to me. It wasn't distracting and even after knowing more about that aspect I still don't see how it can sway someone's opinion negatively.

    I guess I'm a bigger fan of O. Russell than I originally thought, to me this wasn't a misstep. I just watched Winter's Bone for the first time this week, so it's been kind of a Jennifer Lawrence week for me, maybe my love of her skilled acting makes me biased, I haven't seen her make a bad movie yet. She's the only thing that made the Hunger Games watchable or at least kept me in until the end.

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    1. Thanks for the nice words Kersey! Happy New Year and I'm happy that you liked the movie even if I didn't care for it.

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    2. Oh she's made a pretty awful movie in Serena. Her and Bradley Cooper both.

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