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.