JOY is like a blind date, one that starts by someone showing up late, skeptical and clumsy and ends with giggles, a collapsing bed and a phone call to a friend saying “I think I met someone”. In a perfect world, it might be Jennifer Lawrence. This 2015 biopic takes a wary while to develop, gains traction, earns respect and leaves you smiling and rejuvenated. Again, Jennifer Lawrence.
Having guided the charisma-glowing star through back-to-back triumphs of middle-class dramedy in Silver Linings Playbook (winning her an Oscar) and American Hustle (a nomination), writer-director David O. Russell secured her another Best Actress nomination here, playing Joy Mangano, a rut-stuck divorced mom, emotionally and financially bonked between dead-end work and a needy, quarrelsome extended family. Joy’s reserves of drive and stamina contained a lifelong spark of invention, a quiet genius-nest-door cavalry that arrived when the swirling circle of odds seemed unbeatable. Joy made a mop. The mop made history. She literally wiped the floor.
Russell blended his own keen perceptions of dogged lower-middle class strivers in general and women in particular into the bare bones of Mangano’s story, so it’s not a straight bio as much as a cheeky salute to determination and spirit, embodied in the title entrepreneur, no stunning karate demigod but the sort of real, unsung hero we pass every day without recognizing them, even when they’re in our own families. License to play with factoids granted, Russell strings a crazy quilt milieu that wrings truth.*
After falling over themselves praising Russell’s previous films, critical reaction on this split, applause going to Lawrence vs. overheated grouching about Russell’s handling of tone. The first quarter is a bit tasking, but I think the director set it up that way to fix us in the mood of Joy’s birdcage home status and abrasive relationship vexes. Then her ideas germinate and the script begins to blossom, with a fairly glorious payoff rewarding all the turf battles fought on the way.
124 minutes, with Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, Elisabeth Röhm (really good), Dascha Polanko, Susan Lucci, Isabella Crovetti, Laura Wright, Melissa Rivers, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Donna Mills, Ken Howard, Maurice Benard, Bill Thorpe. Produced for $60,000,000, box-office returns came to $101,000,000.
* Russell opens with a dedication : “Inspired by the true stories of daring women. One in particular.” Make way: Erin Brockovich, Wild, Hideous Kinky, Tracks, Frida, Hidden Figures.