Jennifer Lawrence continues her unbeaten streak (OK, I’m choosing to ignore “Serena”) with her regular dream team of director David O. Russell and co-stars Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. “Joy” is slight but succeeds because we want her to succeed.
“Joy” is a real life female empowerment story that plays like a fairy tale. When we first meet Joy Mangano (Lawrence) she’s a young girl making a fairy tale kingdom out of bits of paper. When she’s told a prince would complete the picture she says, “I don’t need a prince,” suggesting that Joy may be headed for her own happily ever after, but will do it on her own terms.
As an adult she’s a single mom struggling to make ends meet. Her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) lives in the basement, her mother (Virginia Madsen) hasn’t left her bedroom in an alarmingly long time, her passive aggressive sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm) is more aggressive than passive and now it looks like her pig-headed father Rudy (Robert De Niro) needs a place to crash. Only grandma Mimi (Diane Ladd) provides unconditional love. “My whole life is like some sort of tragic soap opera,” she says.
When Rudy becomes involved with a wealthy widow named Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) a random incident leads to opportunity for Joy to reinvent herself. A red wine spill gives Joy the idea for a new kind of mop, a durable cleaning tool with a head made from a continuous loop of 300 feet of cotton that can be easily wrung out without getting the user’s hands wet. She called it the Miracle Mop and with a sizable loan from Trudy tries to bring her invention to market. She meets with slammed doors until the mop becomes a hit on the home shopping network QVC. Still, even with sales in the tens of thousands she has problems wringing a profit out of her mops.
“Joy” is a thoroughly enjoyable movie elevated by the strength of its performances. The film itself feels a bit sloppy—maybe that’s because there are four credited editors—but Lawrence and cast mop up the mess with top-notch performances.
De Niro often get accused of taking paycheques roles these days but his work in “Joy” proves he’s not on permanent cruise control. As Rudy he’s the worst kind of dim bulb, a hard-headed old-timer with too much confidence. It’s a complex comedic performance that will make you wish De Niro made more movies with Russell and fewer with everyone else (except maybe for Scorsese).
Bradley Cooper makes the most of a small role as the fast-talking QVC executive but it is the third part of Russell’s Golden Acting Triad—Jennifer Lawrence—who brings the joy to “Joy.”
For the second time this year, following “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” Lawrence dominates a big movie by sheer talent and strength of will. As Mangano she’s gritty, funny and completely genuine in a role that should earn her another Best Actress Oscar nomination.
“Joy” is a success story whose fast-paced joyfulness in performance and pacing makes up for the bumpy execution.
Richard’s CP24 reviews about the big movies opening on Christmas Day: Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling in the financial drama “The Big Short,” Quentin Tarantino’s neo-western “The Hateful Eight,” “Joy,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro and Will Smith in “Concussion.”
Richard and “Canada AM” guest host Melissa Grelo discuss the big movies opening on Christmas Day: Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling in the financial drama “The Big Short,” Quentin Tarantino’s neo-western “The Hateful Eight,” “Joy,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro and Will Smith in “Concussion.”
TOP THIRTEEN HITS (click on the title to see trailer)
1. 12 Years a Slave. There’s a key line near the beginning of “12 Years a Slave, “ the new drama from “Shame” director Steve McQueen. Shortly after being shanghaied from his comfortable life as a freeman into a life of slavery Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) declares, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” Based on Northup’s 1853 memoir the movie is an uncompromising story about will, suffering and injustice.
2. American Hustle. “American Hustle” is one of the year’s best. It’s an entertainingly audacious movie that will doubtless be compared to “The Wolf of Wall Street” because of the similarity in tone and themes, but this time around David O. Russell has almost out-Scorsese’d Scorsese.
3. Before Midnight. “Before Midnight” is beautifully real stuff that fully explores the doubts and regrets that characterize Jesse and Celine’s (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) love affair. Done with humor, heart and pathos, often in the same scene, it is a poignant farewell to two characters who grew up in front of us.
4. Blue Jasmine. Darker than most of Woody Allen’s recent output, “Blue Jasmine” doesn’t go for laughs—very often anyway—but is an astutely crafted psychological character study. Jasmine is a modern day Blanche Du Bois, a faded bright light now forced to depend on the kindness of strangers. Getting in her way are delusions of grandeur and a continued sense of denial—likely the same sense that kept her guilt free during the years the illegal cash was flowing—that eventually conspire to fracture her psyche. “There’s only so many traumas one can take,” she says, “ before you end up in the street, screaming.”
5. Captain Phillips. I don’t think it’s fair to charge audiences full price for screenings of “Captain Phillips.” While watching this exciting new Tom Hanks thriller I was reminded of the old Monster Trucks ads that bellowed, “You Pay for the Whole Seat but You’ll Only Need the Edge!”It a film about piracy and I don’t mean the sleazy guys who bootleg movies but the real pirates who were responsible for the first hijacking of an American cargo ship in two hundred years.
6. Dallas Buyer’s Club. In “Dallas Buyer’s Club” Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée has made an emotional drama that never stoops to melodrama. Instead it’s an inspirational film about standing up for what you believe in.
7. Frances Ha. The seventh film from “Greenberg” director Noah Baumbach isn’t so much a traditional narrative as it is a character study of Frances (Greta Gerwig), an underemployed dancer struggling to find herself in New York City. It plays like a cleaned up black-and-white version of “Girls”; an emotionally rich and funny portrait of twenty-something ennui. “Frances Ha” is a collection of details. There is an engaging story, but it’s not exactly laid out in three acts. It feels more intimate and raw than the usual twenty-ish crisis flick and with each detail we get another piece of the puzzle that makes up Frances’ life.
8. Fruitvale Station. It’s important to remember that “Fruitvale Station” isn’t a documentary. Director Ryan Coogler has shaped the movie for maximum heartrending effect, and by the time the devastating last half hour plays out it’s hard to imagine any other movie this year packing such a emotional wallop.
9. Gravity. “Gravity” isn’t an epic like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or an outright horror film like “Alien.” There are no monsters or face hugging ETs. It’s not even a movie about life or death. Instead it is a life-affirming movie about the will to survive.
10. Her. “Her” is an oddball story, but it’s not an oddball film. It is ripe with real human emotion and commentary on a generation’s reliance on technology at the cost of social interaction.
11. Inside Llewyn Davis. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a fictional look at the vibrant Greenwich Village folk scene. Imagine the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” come to life. Sharp-eyed folkies will note not-so-coincidental similarities between the people Llewyn meets and real-life types like Tom Paxton, Alert Grossman and Mary Travers, but this isn’t a history, it’s a feel. It gives us an under-the-covers look at struggles and naked ambition it takes to get noticed.
12. Nebraska. The humour doesn’t come in the set-up-punch-line format but arises out of the situations. A scene of Woody’s gathered family—his elderly brothers and grown sons—watching a football game redefines the word taciturn but the subject of the sparse conversation, a 1974 Buick, is bang on, hilarious and will likely sound familiar to anyone with a large family.
13. Wolf of Wall Street. “Wolf of Wall Street” makes for entertaining viewing, mostly because DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are able to ride the line between the outrageous comedy on display and the human drama that takes over the movie’s final minutes. Both are terrific, buoyed by the throbbing pulse of Scorsese’s camera. With its fourth wall breaking narration, scandalous set pieces and absurd antics “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an experience. At three hours it’s almost as excessive as Balfort’s $26,000 dinners. It feels a bit long, but like the spoiled brats it portrays, it will not, and cannot, be ignored.
TOP FIVE MISSES
TREND: Big stars don’t guarantee box office!
1. The Fifth Estate – Budget: $28 million, Global box office: $6 million, Return: 21% Late into “The Fifth Estate” Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies (David Thewlis) says, “most good stories start at the beginning.” I argue that he’s right– about 99% of the time. Unfortunately this look at WikiLeaks and hacker-turned-whistleblower Julian Assange falls into the 1%.
2. Bullet to the Head – Budget: $25 million, Global box office: $9 million, Return: 36% With a name like Bullet to the Head you know the new Sylvester Stallone movie isn’t a romantic comedy. Although he paraphrases the most famous rom com line of all time, “You had be at BLEEP BLEEP!” the movie is nothing but an ode to testosterone.
3. Getaway – Budget: R180-million, Global box office: R105-million, Return: 58 percent. On a scale of zero to stupid, ”Getaway” ranks an eleven. It is what we call in the film criticism business a S.D.M. (Silly Damn Movie). OK, I made that last part up, but I couldn’t really think of any other category to place this movie under. Maybe E.S.D.M. (Extremely Silly Damn Movie).
“American Hustle, ” the new film from “Silver Linings Playbook” director David O. Russell, bristles with energy.
Imagine the love child of “The Sting” and “Ocean’s Eleven” infused with the verve of the frenetic last thirty minutes of “Goodfellas” and you get the idea.
Branded with the disclaimer, “Some of this actually happened,” “American Hustle” is a fictionalized retelling of the Abscam scandal, an elaborate FBI takedown of corrupt government officials.
Christian Bale plays Irv Rosenfeld, a low level con man with a paunch and Trump-esque comb over. He makes a comfortable living, enough to support his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), their son and his mistress and partner-in-crime Sydney (Amy Adams).
His life goes sideways when Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious FBI agent, threatens them with arrest unless they help him run a complicated corruption investigation involving New Jersey mayor Carmen Polito (Jeremy Renner) and other high ranking officials.
There’s a zany tone to “American Hustle.” It plays like a heightened version of real life. Perhaps it is the outrageous 1970s styles—all big hair, wide collars and flared pants—or the edgy, slightly larger-than-life performances from the top-notch cast, but the film feels one step removed from reality. Settle into “American Hustle’s” world and the darkly humorous ride is an enjoyable journey.
Bale leads the cast, but it is very much an ensemble. As the dumpy Irving he is a mass of contradictions. He’s a confidence man with a conscience; a man who feels it’s wrong to entrap politicians so soon after the public cynicism about elected officials after Watergate and Vietnam. Trapped in a loveless marriage, he’s a philanderer who is reluctant to leave Rosalyn because he wants to do the right thing for his son. He genuinely likes Carmine even though he’s about to set him up to do some real jail time.
Bale brings some real complexity to a character who could easily have been a stunt. Some actors might have relied on the weight gain and the bad hair to do the work, but Bale brings him to life and even makes you feel sorry for him.
The standout, in a smaller role, is Lawrence. Realistically she may be too young for the part, but as “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate,” she’s perfectly cast. With a thick Long Island and perfectly lacquered lips, she plays Rosalyn as a creature of pure emotion, passionate one second, needy the next, driven by jealousy and dysfunction and one too many self-help books.
Adams, Renner and Cooper also distinguish themselves playing preposterous characters with one thing in common—they aspire to be something they are not. Everyone on display is on the hustle, looking to reinvent themselves, and that desperation is what gives the movie its dynamism.
As a backdrop Russell hits all the right period notes, particularly with the music. He uses archival music from the likes of Elton John, Electric Light Orchestra and The Bee Gees to set the mood, but instead of acting as a greatest hits collection of the Me Decade through clever editing it sounds like a soundtrack.
“American Hustle” is one of the year’s best. It’s an entertainingly audacious movie that will doubtless be compared to “The Wolf of Wall Street” because of the similarity in tone and themes, but this time around David O. Russell has almost out-Scorsese’d Scorsese.
“You’re a con artist,” wrote Karina Halle in Sins & Needles. “A liar. A thief. An unredeemable soul.”
She might also have added to that colourful list really interesting movie character.
As despicable as flim flam artists may be, there is no denying they make good film subjects.
This weekend in American Hustle, Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con man forced to help the FBI ensnare a group of corrupt politicians in the ABSCAM sting operation.
Although American Hustle director David O. Russell says his film is a fictionalized account of events, the ABSCAM operation was headline news in the early 1980s and Hollywood took notice.
In 1982 director Louis Malle was making plans for a May start date on an ABSCAM film called Moon Over Miami starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Belushi was to play Melvin Weinberg, based on the same man as Bale’s character in American Hustle.
The movie was scuttled following Belushi’s death in March of that year.
That con man film never saw the light of day, but many others have.
Everyone knows The Sting and The Grifters, but lesser seen is David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, a complicated story starring Campbell Scott as Joe Ross, a man who invents a process “to control the world market.” Concerned that he will not be properly compensated for his work he contacts Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin), a wealthy businessman who offers to help. Little does Ross know that he has just stepped into a world of deception that will change his life.
Steve Martin’s performance in The Spanish Prisoner was Oscar worthy, but it wasn’t the first time he played a confidence man on film.
In the comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels he starred opposite Michael Caine as a scruffy con man trying to muscle in on some high end business on the French Riviera. Caine’s suave grifter makes a bet with Martin. Whoever can con Soap Queen Janet Colgate (Glenne Headley) first will walk away with $50,000.
The movie was written for Mick Jagger and David Bowie who were looking to do a project together after the success of their Dancing in the Street video. The rock stars dropped out before cameras rolled — Bowie later said both were, “a bit tweezed that we lost out on a script that could have been reasonably good” — and replaced by Martin and Caine whose hilarious performances earned the movie a spot on Bravo’s 100 Funniest Movies list.