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.”
Richard’s “Canada AM” reviews for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn,” the Seth Rogen Christmas comedy “The Night Before” and the Julia Roberts thriller “Secret in Their Eyes.”
In my line of work, hype and celebrity are occupational hazards. Every day my inbox is stuffed with news releases touting the Next! Big! Thing! You get numb to it after a while, but every now and again someone will come along you know is destined for something big.
Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t a star the first time I met her but you could tell it would only be a matter of time until she was. It was 2010, years before she would win an Academy Award or be known internationally as Katniss Everdeen. She was a struggling newbie with just a handful of credits, but a great big buzz surrounding her performance in Winter’s Bone. Her steely but vulnerable take on an Ozark girl who will do anything to keep her family together was garnering good reviews and the usual phrases like “breakout performance” were being thrown around, but this time it felt different. Real.
I was asked to host a question-and-answer period with her after a screening of the film at a theatre in Toronto, but first we planned a quick dinner with a publicist at a nearby hotel. I’ve eaten with a lot actors who order a piece of steamed fish, no butter, no oil and then, rather than actually put it in their mouth, simply move it around the plate until the waiter takes it away.
Not Jennifer Lawrence. She ordered a steak dinner with sides and ate it all while showing us a cell phone snap of her costume for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo audition. As she chatted, laughed and enjoyed dinner, it was apparent what she wasn’t. She wasn’t precious or overwhelmed at being on the cusp of something big. She was doing something rare in this business — being herself and enjoying the ride. In other words the woman you now see photo-bombing Taylor Swift on red carpets or starring in this weekend’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the real deal, someone completely at ease with herself in a business that doesn’t usually allow for that.
Later, on the way to the theatre, she opted not to take the provided limo. Instead we walked down Bloor Street. It was on the chilly side, so she draped my suit jacket over her shoulders. Along the way her high heel caught in a crack in the pavement and snapped off. Rather than hobble down the street, she kicked off both shoes and walked barefoot the rest of the way, her broken designer shoes in hand.
At the theatre I don’t remember what we talked about on stage. When I think back on the night I reflect on the sweet spot she was in, career-wise. She was about to become one of the youngest Oscar nominees ever for best actress in a leading role and yet there wasn’t an ounce of pretension about her. Charisma? Yes. Talent? In spades.
I don’t claim to have some sort of celebrity ESP, but that night I knew in my gut I had met a star, a feeling reaffirmed when I saw her carry the Hunger Games movies on her back and become a leading voice in the fight for pay equality for women in Hollywood.
Want to see a superstar? Watch the last scene of the Joy trailer. Shot on an iPhone as test footage it’s a close-up of Lawrence’s face as she fires off two shotgun rounds. “My name’s Joy, by the way,” she says. It’s a simple image but a magnetic one. It’s a movie star moment from the rare actor who commands our attention every time she’s on screen. Sometimes you just know.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” the final part in Jennifer Lawrence’s quintet of blockbusters based on Suzanne Collins’s novels, begins seconds after the last movie ended. There’s no “previously on The Hunger Games.” It’s as if no time has passed since the last movie. It may leave newbies to the series a bit baffled but fans should appreciate getting right down to business.
The broad strokes of the story are easy to get even if you haven’t seen the other movies. Know that Katniss Everdeen is the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope in a country torn apart by Civil War. She’s also a butt-kicking warrior with a conscience. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), her ex boyfriend-turned-propaganda-tool for the government, now suffers from PTSD but has re-joined the efforts to bring down the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
Publicly Snow calls Everdeen, “A poor unstable girl with nothing more than a talent with a bow and arrow,” but really he understands her value as a symbol to the revolution against him. For her part she is done with making speeches and propaganda videos and sees her job as eliminating Snow. “He needs to look into my eyes when I do it,” she says.
She sets off to the Capitol to hunt down Snow and faces her greatest challenges yet.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” is a cut above other young adult action movies. It skilfully blends politically charged action with elements of horror—how about those pasty white subterranean creatures?—romance and, it must be said a dollop of mush. It’s dark and dangerous, unafraid to explore the gritty side of the story.
It’s strongest asset, however, is its star, Jennifer Lawrence. She brings the complex character alive, displaying equal parts heroism, vulnerability and determination. She is the glue that binds all the elements together and is, far and away, the most interesting YA heroine in recent years.
Julianne Moore, Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (who died before shooting was complete) round out the cast to create an interesting ensemble, but this is Lawrence’s movie.
“The Hunger Games” franchise has taken what is essentially a fancied up Civil War story and created a complete world, ripe with detail and intrigue. “Part 2” adds in a city that is basically a giant booby trap and some crazy creatures but stays true to the core of Everdeen’s story of survival.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” will satisfy fans and please newcomers to the franchise. The long coda that wraps up the franchise is probably only for hardcore fans hungry for details about Katniss and Peeta, but felt like padding to me. On the upside, there might be a great drinking game in here. Do a shot every time Katniss is knocked out and fights to regain consciousness and my guess is you’ll be just a shell-shocked as she is by the end of the movie.