On a press tour for a previous film, Jennifer Lawrence said director David O. Russell called her up in the middle of the night and asked her, “Want to make a movie about the invention of the miracle mop?” And they did. Kind of.
That sounds like the most David O. Russell thing I have ever heard. The director has quite the reputation of being eccentric and difficult and often marching to the beat of his own drum. He has had a string of critical successes with his last three films, which has afforded him the opportunity to make a movie about a mop, should that be what he wanted to do.
I commend a great deal about Russell. He infuses his own vision into each of his stories, which on the surface are trite and been-there. He breathed great energy into The Fighter, a familiar but thrilling boxing tale. Silver Linings Playbook was busting at the seams with quirk and charm, even though it hit all the romantic comedy beats. His American Hustle was an entertaining, loose telling of the Abscam scandal, filled with Russell’s manic energy.
All of these films received great reviews and multiple Oscar nominations (Russell was nominated for Best Director for each of these movies). His latest, Joy, puts a bit of a chill on his hot streak as a director and writer. Again, he takes a rags-to-riches tale and follows a trajectory that has been done before with a shot of his own imagination. This time around it feels awfully uneven.
Before the film, I knew that Joy Mangano invented a mop that made her a very rich woman. Joy makes us believe that Russell is very passionate about telling her story but doesn’t want to drive the plot from point-A to directly point-B. We get flashbacks and dream sequences, all stitched together in the first act rather haphazardly.
Lawrence stars as Joy. She is a young mother of two, who is not only in charge of two children but constantly has to help her mother (Virginia Madsen), who is doesn’t like to leave her room or turn her soap operas off. Her father, Rudy (Robert DeNiro) has recently been left by his second wife and has to move into the basement of Joy’s home. Did I mention that Joy’s ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) lives in the basement of her house, too?
Life’s a bit crazy for Joy but her mind never stops moving. Since she was a young girl, she was always looking to create or invent and one day she concocts the idea of a mop that is self-wringing and you never have to touch the dirty part. This is Joy’s ticket to success.
The second part of Joy is her getting her product noticed and that is when Joy becomes more conventional. Surprisingly enough, that is when Joy starts to work. She brings the idea to QVC, where she meets Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), who helps her get the mop on the air.
Reductively, Joy could be passed off as a movie about a mop, which won’t exactly bring people to the theater. At its core, the movie is about Joy’s determination and creativity, her drive to succeed at brining a better life for herself and her children. Lawrence is wonderful as Joy, never wavering when things get rough. It’s the actress’s most mature work to date.
There are no real issues with the cast. The majority are Russell alums from previous films and they all have a comfortable chemistry together. Cooper’s role is small but the actor continues to establish himself as one of the great screen presences of his time. He brings wide-eyed energy to his few scenes with Lawrence.
Russell had a clear plan for the story he wanted to tell and how he wanted to tell it. His ambitions seemed to have gotten away from him, making Joy a passable but wholly uneven film.
Joy rates 6 out of 10