Review: Joy – Embattled, uplifting, disappointing

‘Joy’ is the embattled but uplifting tale of Joy Mangano and her Miracle Mop, arguably not the most glamorous device, but a game-changer for homemakers at the time; today, the woman is an entrepreneurial legend. Both the true story and the film should inspire hope in every budding entrepreneur in 2016, and Lawrence’s ever immaculate hair should make ‘Joy’ an instant win, but it’s not. The film doesn’t do the story justice.

As always, Jennifer Lawrence uses her full emotional range to draw the audience into the story. It’s hard to say exactly when you start rooting for Joy, but before long you’re cringing, sighing and ranting at her family with her. The family cast carries also some weighty names — Robert De Niro (now an ever-present David O. Russell collaborator) playing Joy’s hapless dad, Elisabeth Röhm (who also featured in American Hustle) as the jealous and competitive sister, and Orange is The New Black’s Dascha Polanco as Joy’s lifelong best friend. The flaw here is like in many other biographic films, there isn’t enough time to really examine or understand their relationships with Joy, no one but Miss Lawrence ever gets chance to shine.

Fortunately, the pacing of the film makes this forgettable for the most part, and there are some wonderful moments to make up for it. The audience sees Joy’s plans grow and her confidence build, and remembering that this woman is real makes this a beautiful reminder that the human spirit can conquer most things. ‘Joy’ is the kind of film that will inspire some post-New Year resolutions, and push some people to go the extra mile; but the film, like a lot of resolutions, has some imminent failures.

The trio of Cooper, Lawrence and O. Russell has previously swept a barrage of awards and acclaims, and ‘Joy’ might gain more. Might. But this combination of actors and director is becoming tired and stagnant, and awards bodies might feel the same way. Cooper and Lawrence have nothing new to bounce off, they know each other’s acting styles too well, and you get the sense that there are no surprises left. Director David O. Russell faces similar challenges, and his greatest challenge is now to make his work feel new and unpredictable for his audiences.

‘Joy’ promises at its outset to chart the rise of Joy Mangano from divorced mother to the matriarch of a powerful empire, but we only see her first invention, and not much after. The future is noted in passing, the development of the empire and future inclusion of Joy’s family barely touched upon, which is a shame; being told that a person stays in touch with their roots isn’t really enough, and showing us would mean so much more.

After watching ‘Joy’ it’s worth googling Joy Mangano. If you do so, you’ll learn that all the sentiments portrayed about her in the film are true — and that’s something you don’t see every day. The woman is stronger than her acted self, and more humble in the face of her success. For that reason, in some ways Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell didn’t do Joy Mangano justice.

Channah Parker-Hamdani

Image: TM/Twentieth Century Fox

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