Self-indulgence is a natural side effect of being told your work is good with no criticism against it. Directors like Quentin Tarantino, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Christopher Nolan, Alfonso Cuarón, David Fincher and Ridley Scott have all been accused of self-indulgent behaviors in filmmaking. This list also can be shortened down to “List of Hunter’s favorite directors.” One director accused of self-indulgence not on that list is David O. Russell, director of “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” Russell’s alleged self-indulgence comes in the fact that a bit of clever writing can push him and his A-list casts a long way in terms of awards, which typically is a ploy that gets me, seeing as “American Hustle” was one of my favorite films of 2013. Russell’s new film, “Joy,” which also stars “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” stars Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper, is a film that hasn’t been talked about too much, as it hasn’t circulated film festivals or even been touched by early awards thus far, giving the impression that “Joy” will not be all that Russell might think it is.
“American Hustle” it’s not, but when “Joy” isn’t busy being a David O. Russell movie, it’s quite enthralling.
Lawrence plays Joy, based in part on real life inventor, Joy Mangano (who also served as an executive producer on the film), a young single mother, constantly demonized by her family, who finds herself at the forefront of success and loss simultaneously when she attempts to patent and manufacture an innovation on the common mop. Sounds exciting, right? You might not think so, but once the film moves past the initial “This is Joy, this is her family, this is her life and now she’s gonna do something” phase, in which Russell is undoubtedly at his most self-congratulatory, “Joy” is pretty damn fantastic.
Lawrence is absolutely fantastic as Joy, something I almost didn’t expect, simply from the fact that Lawrence has been so on fire lately that I thought of all movies for her to make a misstep on, “Joy” would be the one to do it, but alas, here we are with another killer role. Joy is a character that is a true icon for young girls to look up to. If Lawrence’s turn as Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” films can teach young girls to be brave in a figurative, fictional sense, “Joy” can teach young girls to follow their dreams and desires in the face of every obstacle that comes in their way.
The supporting cast of the film also plays well, albeit to a fairly 2D extent. Lawrence as Joy is a completely three-dimensional affair, as we pick up on small cues that Lawrence throws at us as an actress. The supporting characters are played very well, but don’t have the same sense of depth as our title character, which might be intentional, but I’m guessing it isn’t. De Niro does very well as Joy’s father Rudy who, at first, seems to support Joy in her endeavors, but slowly begins to sink into a hole of repulsiveness as the film continues. Joy’s ex-husband Tony, played by Édgar Ramírez, is probably the most developed of the supporting characters and is played nicely by Ramírez. What I liked so much about the relationship between Joy and Tony came about midway through the film when they begin to notice themselves working better as business associates than spouses, and I found this dynamic between the characters to be really unique, seeing as most divorced couples only tend to wallow in their own misery; Joy and Tony found usefulness out of it.
The first 30 minutes of “Joy” felt like Russell simply reminding us that we were, in fact, watching a David O. Russell film. The film starts with a black and white dramatized soap opera to fill its opening credits, a soap opera that we return to from time to time throughout the film, for some reason. I liked the satire put forth by this soap opera segment, but found it completely and utterly unnecessary to the progression of the story in the film. The dream sequences in which Joy finds herself trapped inside the soap opera comes as a bit of a low point for the film, but after this initial 30 minutes, the film seems to scrap the idea of the soap opera segment and never mention it again. Smart move, but either run with it or don’t.
“Joy” works best when it’s focusing on the story of Joy and her mop patent, primarily with the relationship between her and QVC, once they begin to sell her product on television. These scenes are clever, but never pretentious; they also never talk down to the audience either, favoring a story that can be accessed by young and old alike, to inspire young girls to face their dreams head on. Perhaps this is the reason the film is narrated by Joy’s grandmother, played by Diane Ladd. Joy’s grandmother plays a pivotal role in teaching Joy to believe in herself, but doesn’t reach the significance as a character in Joy’s later life to completely justify this decision. I’m hoping his was inserted to help younger audiences grasp the sometimes more complex story elements, as I feel like an R-rated cut wouldn’t include such a thing.
After its first act, I loved “Joy.” The film is an inspirational piece that teaches everyone, but more importantly, young girls, that you can be anything that you want if you work hard enough for it and ignore every person in your way who tells you that you can’t. When Russell isn’t trying to continually convince us of his talents as a director and simply lets the film speak for itself, “Joy” soars. Lawrence is pitch perfect in the title role and inhabits even more of a role-model status for young people in her grounded sense of realism and truth in her characters. I was confused as to why Russell chose to make “Joy” his first PG-13 film, but after seeing how inspiring “Joy” was, I can’t wait for young people to see it.
Directed by: David O. Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Röhm, Susan Lucci, Donna Mills, and Bradley Cooper.
Runtime: 124 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Fox 2000 Pictures presents, in association with Annapurna Pictures, a Davis Entertainment Company/10 by 10 Entertainment production, a David O. Russell film, “Joy”