“JOY” IS A movie that promises well.
It’s the eponynous story of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) who, despite the odds, invented and – hugely- profited from her creation of the Miracle Mop. her story is one of a down-in-the-heels divorced mother of two who has to battle against (male) corporate patronisation and her own sleazy family’s malfeasance to make her unlikely dream come true…even while caring for her loser parents.
We expect David O Russell, armed as he is with a formidable roster of acting firepower (Robert De Niro as her dad, Bradley Cooper as the President of QVC and Isabella Rossellini as the dad’s partner) to give this rags to riches story enough of a twist to leverage it out of cliché.
The twist he offers, is to turn the whole thing into an over-long, muddled, boring soap opera. It’s a genre that’s repeatedly shown and deservedly mocked throughout the film… as offering a false and silly view of reality. “Joy” succumbs to the genre. For, despite the director’s sudden shift in mood half way through, the story, seen through the melodrama of a dead narrator (duh!), never manages to rise above the false and silly. It’s a case where the movie’s form has managed to wrench any believability away; the result is that the audience’s potential engagement with the inherent drama of the tale is entirely neutralized.
It’s as though the director himself didn’t quite believe in the story he was telling.
Russell’s stories…his characters… have always succeeded in the past by being an amusing, unexpected nudge away from everyday reality (remember Lawrence’s big hair bitch in “American Hustle” or her break-out charmer as Tiffany in “Silver Linings Playbook”). They’ve always been slightly larger than life…and that’s been a major part of their/his appeal. But they’ve always come across as being affectionately realized. Russell loved his creations and this infected our love for them too. In “Joy” the love’s disappeared. The whole enterprise feels like a laboured and a cynical ploy to once again pair Lawrence with Cooper.
Call it love’s laboured and lost.
She (Lawrence) certainly labours hard enough at infusing her role with as much credibility as possible. But she’s swimming against a tide of bad writing (Russell himself) including one awful moment when the De Niro character underlines, in BOLD type, the moral of the tale. Nor does the lackluster acting help anything. Cooper must have been filming something else at the time and simply flown in for his scenes: his role as the tough but empathetic corporate executive feels specious and half-baked. Rossellini is into full soap opera thespian melodrama.
But the Razzie award (handed out annually to the worst of Hollywood) must go to Robert De Niro. He has now mumbled his way through so many dreadful movies (his next big can’t-miss ‘hit’ is “Dirty Grandpa” with Zac Efron)) that watching him is no more than a sad reminder of how far this once great talent has fallen. For his own legacy, he should be forcibly retired.
JOY: Dir. David. O. Russell. With: Jennifer Lawrence, Rbert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd. Screenplay: David O. Russell. Cinematography: Linus Sandgren
It’s not a great way to end the year…which has however been a year of fabulous film-making. I won’t offer yet another top ten best movie list (having not as yet seen either “The Hateful Eight” of “The Danish Girl”), but, apart from the Box Office cash cows such as “Spectre”, “Bridge of Spies” etc. here anyway are some of my – often unexpected – highlights of the year (really worth finding on DVD):
“Wild”: Reese Witherspoon’s intelligently produced, delightfully funny movie about a woman who seeks to walk away from her troubles along the thousand mile path of the Pacific Crest Trail and ends up walking toward a future worth the walk, as it were. Written by Bruce Hornsby
“Ex Machina”: Alicia Vikander’s breakout performance as a robot (probably the sexiest robot ever) and that frightening moment when robots reach (as they will) what’s called ‘the singularity’ (when sentience emerges)
“While We’re Young”: Noah Baumbach’s insightful satire on the pressures of growing old in a culture that only rewards youth…with and unexpectedly brilliant performance by Ben Stiller. Who’d have thunk!
“Mas Max: Fury Road”: George Miller’s out and out visual spectacle of the year with the out and out female badass creation of the year: Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa
“Inside Out”: The best of animation. As good as any of the Toy Stories; an inventive and deliriously lovely anthropomorphizing of how kids (OK everyone) deal with Joy, Fear, Anger etc
“45 Years”: A quiet, thoughtful, nuanced movie about age, memory and love with Best Actor performances from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtnay
“99 Homes”: A spellbinding Michael Shannon as a reptilian real estate broker: the ruthless, nasty, everyday face of modern capitalism
“Steve Jobs”: Danny Boyle’s financial dud about the gulf between creator and creation; it had the sharpest screenplay of the year (from Aaron Sorkin) and an Oscar worthy turn from Kate Winslet
“Carol”: My Best Movie of the year. Todd Haynes’ brilliant look at the nexus between love and desire. With glowing performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara
“Brooklyn”: Another finely scripted story by Nick Hornby (from a novel by Coln Tóibín). Director John Crowley locates the pin point moment where the real drama of love and belonging reveals itself without the need of faux angst and melodrama