Monday, December 28, 2015

Joy

2.5/4

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Isabella Rossellini, Edgar Ramirez, Elizabeth Rohm, Bradley Cooper

Rated PG-13 for Brief Strong Language

The role of Joy Magnano was made for Jennifer Lawrence.  It's a part that requires spunk, stubborn determination and a bit of luck.  It's the kind of role that Lawrence plays so well.

Joy (Lawrence) is a single mom living in a very dysfunctional house.  Part of the reason is that she can't say no to anyone.  Her grandmother (Diane Ladd) lives upstairs, her soap opera-addicted mother (Virginia Madsen) never leaves the house, and her dad's (DeNiro) new wife just returned him, so he's moving into the basement, right next to her ex-husband (Ramirez).  Joy has been an inventor all her life, but life seems to have taken her in a direction that she didn't plan on.  One day while on a boat with her family, she cuts herself on some spilled wine glass.  That gives her an idea: the Miracle Mop.  You can clean it without getting your hands dirty and throw it in the washer.  Of course, getting the idea was the easy part.  Making it and selling it is a different story.

The one thing that holds this movie together is Jennifer Lawrence.  A highly talented young actress who's easy to love (both on and off screen), Lawrence is the anchor.  She keeps us anchored in the unfocused first half which is filled with David O. Russell's trademark off-kilter, almost artsy-style humor.  Although I have loved a few of his movies, such as "The Fighter" or "Three Kings," I've rarely found his stuff funny.  Robert DeNiro and Isabella Rossellini are also good, but this is Lawrence's show.  Despite top billing after Lawrence, Bradley Cooper doesn't have a substantial role in the film.  Adding insult to injury for his fans, it's not a great performance.  He plays a low-key, consummate professional, but his acting lacks the life and energy that made him a star.

Despite having the reputation for terrorizing everyone he comes across and being an all-around jerk (he got into a fistfight with the famously easy-to-work with George Clooney on the set of "Three Kings" and famously got into a screaming match with Lily Tomlin, also known to be easy to work with, on the set of "I Heart Huckabee's," but apparently the two actors have made up with Russell), there's no denying Russell's talent.  He's inconsistent, yes, (I didn't like "American Hustle" or "Silver Linings Playbook") but most definitely capable of brilliance (I loved "Three Kings" and "The Fighter").  "Joy" isn't a high-profile release for him, probably because it's a middle of the road picture.  There are aspects of the film that are compelling, but the film takes a while to hit its stride.  Russell is known for taking chances, and while they don't always pay off, some of them do.  For example, even though the first act is overlong and not well focused, the flashbacks are intriguingly melded into the film.

Is the film worth seeing?  Tough to say.  There are things I liked about it, especially after the film takes off once it focuses on the Miracle Mop.  But there are also things I didn't like, such as the muddling first act and it's unsuccessful attempts at humor.  It's too uneven to recommend seeing in the theater, but if you're interested, a night with this in the Blu Ray player won't be one that's wasted.

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