You really have to check twice to be convinced that David O Russell’s name in the credits of Joy isn’t a misprint. This is after all, the director of such recent gems as The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. As for Joy…well, pardon the pun…it’s joyless.
That’s a shame because the film – about the real life inventor of the Miracle Mop – is intended to celebrate a struggling woman’s journey to empowerment.
Russell casts his muse Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a desperate single-mom with two kids living in a dilapidated house that can barely contain her eccentric, dysfunctional family. Her deadbeat ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) shares the basement with her distracted, unaffectionate father (Robert DeNiro), while her bed-bound mother (Virginia Madsen) loses herself in daytime TV soaps, and her jealous half-sister (Elisabeth Rohm) shows up repeatedly to put her down.
But, spurred on by her supportive grandmother (Diane Ladd), Joy comes up with an idea that changes her life. With the help of an investment from her father’s controlling girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini), she invents an innovative hands-free, reusable mop that – after your typical birthing problems – turns her into an overnight sensation on an emerging home-shopping network. Bradley Cooper stars as the marketing executive who gives her a shot at fame and success on the air.
Written by Russell and Annie Mumulo, the key problems with the film are its inert script and its uneven tone. Joy never strikes the right balance between drama and comedy, and has virtually no narrative drive. The stakes don’t come across as particularly high, and even a final-act hurdle is overcome fairly easily. The other big problem is that the very story at the heart of the film appears too ‘straightforward’ in comparison to Russell’s typically oddball tales. As a result, he gives an idiosyncratic twist to virtually every character here, but it doesn’t always ring true.
Jennifer Lawrence is possibly the only thing here that’s worth recommending. She catches the wildly oscillating tone of the film, going in a beat from comic to tragic. But she’s too young for the part, and let down by the muddled script.
Joy is a misfire, no questions asked. A crushing bore of a film from a director who has shown he’s capable of so much more. I’m going with two out of five.