Movie Review: Joy

This is going to be a very short review, because I don’t really have much to say about Joy, David O. Russell’s latest feature to star Jennifer Lawrence. I haven’t read any reviews of the film yet – the film finished less than an hour ago – aside from the fact that I’d heard that Joy wasn’t great. Russell’s previous two feature films, both of which starred Lawrence and Bradley Cooper were critical darlings – Silver Linings Playbook won Lawrence her first Oscar, and Lawrence, Cooper, Christian Bale and Amy Adams were all nominated for their work in American Hustle – and Joy is just… there. This is a shame, not only because of the people who were involved in making the film, but because Joy Mangano’s story is a great one to adapt to film.

You can assemble a great cast, but if the material isn’t good, it’s just there. Jennifer Lawrence is always fantastic, but she is the only reason to see this film. Todd VanDerWerff over at Vox describes Joy as “awful”. I don’t think it’s awful, but it was lacklustre. The cast is great, but Lawrence is the only one who transcends the material. My biggest problem with David O. Russell is his determination to keep casting Jennifer Lawrence in roles that she’s too young for. I have nothing against Jennifer Lawrence – I said that I’d want her to play me in a movie about my life, but then again, she is three months younger than me – but playing De Niro’s mother is a bit too far. I’m not aware of anyone questioning Lawrence’s skill, but it’s reflective of a larger problem with roles for women in Hollywood.

One of the great television moments of 2015 was the “Last F*ckable Day” sketch on Inside Amy Schumer, which was about how the media and Hollywood treat women as they get older. It was exaggerated, but only slightly. Just this year Maggie Gyllenhaal was told that she was too old to be the wife/girlfriend of a 55 year old actor when she was 37. Joy Mangano was a middle aged woman when her life turned around, Maggie Gyllenhaal would have been great in that role. So would Amy Adams, who had the female lead in American Hustle, and both of those women are the right age. There aren’t many great roles for 30-55 year old women out there, and David O Russell is giving one of those potentially great roles (which is an assumption we make based on his previous work) to a 25 year old.

The most significant problem with Joy however, is that it isn’t very good. If an actress of Lawrence’s calibre wasn’t in the lead part, I’d probably be less favourable towards it. There was character development for Joy, but her relationships with any characters other than her daughter and grandmother weren’t really explored at all. It’s important to know that Joy had a son who didn’t fly out to California with her ex-husband, daughter, father and his girlfriend to bail her out of jail. He’s the Bobby Draper of this film. What’s the source of the animosity between Joy and her half-sister Peggy? They have the same father, whom they both love, but suddenly he divorces Joy’s mother and they’re sniping all the time. Why? There were far too many characters for us to keep track of everything that was going on with everyone.

The film’s haphazard structure doesn’t do anything to assist with . Joy is narrated by Joy’s maternal grandmother. It starts off with Joy as a little girl, making things in her room, and the next thing we know, she has two children and is divorced and her father is moving into her house because his current girlfriend has decided she’s done with him. Then, when Dascha Polanco comes in, we flash back to how she met Tony and got married, had children and got divorced within a matter of minutes. Then at the end we get a flashforward to Joy’s future empire that she doesn’t know about yet. All of this is exposition narrated by Joy’s grandmother, and it doesn’t work. Now I’m off to read Todd VanDerWerff’s piece about how this film could have been good. Edit: I just finished it (the link is at the top of the piece), and he makes some of the same points as me, plus some more, only he articulates it better.

Other thoughts:

  • The Christmas Carol that played during Joy’s dreams/nightmares/premonitions is called “In the Deep Midwinter,” which I know very well because I sang it for my carols service last Sunday.
  • It always seemed to be winter in this film, which made it quite difficult to figure out how much time had passed.
  • Joan Rivers’ daughter Melissa played her in the film, here’s an interview with her at Vanity Fair.

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