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Joy is a joyless movie. It’s so bad, it made my list of worst movies of the year.
I’m hit-and-miss with David O. Russell films. Of his most recent, I liked American Hustle, but disliked Silver Lining Playbook. The Fighter was okay. In this, we get a lot of the same cast members from the last few films; talented Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper. None of them could save the horrid dialogue and unrealistic characters.
Since the film is loosely based on Joy Mangano, who invented a mop and ended up making millions on Home Shopping Network, I wonder if Russell tweaked the screenplay or just wanted to make a self-indulgent wacky comedy about a dysfunctional family that we can’t stand to watch. The screenplay was written by Oscar nominated Annie Mumolo. I have to assume it’s better than what we see on screen.
And regarding Mangano, she might be thrilled with Lawrence playing her, nobody else will be. Lawrence is 25-years-old in real life, but has to play somebody in her late 30s trying to raise a few kids. You don’t buy her in that part and in many scenes, her acting chops just weren’t there (although she does sound lovely in a duet singing Sinatra’s “Something Stupid”).
The characters in this just aren’t properly fleshed out. The most interesting one is played by Edgar Ramirez as the ex-husband who’s convinced he can make it as a singer. Just like all the characters in this, you like them one moment and hate them the next.
For example, Robert De Niro shows up. He’s Joy’s father and was just kicked out by his recent girlfriend. He needs a place to stay, and as he’s trying to talk his way into her house. He gets angry and smashes a glass on the floor. At that point, wouldn’t you tell him to take a hike? I think Russell just likes glass shattering on screen. In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper smashes a window in his parents house, and they too, don’t tell him to get lost. In real life, do we tolerate adult family members getting angry and smashing things? Strange.
The movie starts with the great Cream song “I Feel Free” and we later hear Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard belt out a good version of it. Russell always has great soundtracks, and this is another one. We hear The Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody” — a wonderful ballad, as well as the rare Stones song “Stray Cat Blues.” We get Elvis’ “Little Less Conversation” They even take the piano section out of an obscure Springsteen song (Racing in the Street), but I couldn’t help wonder — how do these songs go with the story? Great tunes, but they don’t fit the narrative. Compare that to a movies that uses old songs and make them work with the picture — Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Russell…you are no Tarantino. And it seems you’re going back down this path in which you want to do wackiness just to be bizarre. Why? Would you rather be doing I Heart Huckabees stuff over the last few movies that garnered all those Oscar nominations?
There are a few moments that might work for audiences. An example was how the movie started. Virginia Madsen is a depressed older woman that watches soap operas and we see some fantasy sequences where Joy is in the actual soaps. Audiences will laugh as they see Susan Lucci and the cheesy dialogue. Yet this joke has been done to death (and was done brilliantly in the movie Soap Dish). It was all forced and lazy writing, as were most of the jokes in this film. The first time I laughed was 45 minutes into the movie, when Joy is pitching the new mop she invented to a QVC rep (Bradley Cooper), and she accidentally spills water on a co-workers shoe.
Now, the section with QVC does have a bit more life. It makes you wish they would’ve done a movie about the real Joy’s involvement with this new network. Instead, you get more unrealistic scenarios. Cooper showing her things backstage and telling her things he wouldn’t. The top sellers acting buffoonish backstage.
Another character that makes little sense is Isabella Rossellini. She’s De Niro’s new girlfriend, and none of her dialogue works. It also doesn’t make sense what happens once she gets her lawyer to work with Joy. I can’t explain why without a spoiler, but it would’ve never happened that way.
If you just like movies about dysfunctional families, and you like seeing big name actors play those parts…and you don’t care if it’s all garbage, go see it. It’s unfortunate that the film feels like the first draft of a screenplay.
This gets 1 star out of 5.