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No Joy in Joy: 124 minutes of mess

By Catherine Knowles
Thu 17 Dec 2015
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Don’t go into this movie with any expectations because it will disappoint you. It’s flawed, messy and more irritating than it needed to be. That said, there are far worse ways to spend 124 minutes.

David O’Russell’s latest film tells the story of Joy Mangano, a real life entrepreneur, inventor, businesswoman and mother.

You could say the film follows the trials and tribulations of her first business venture, but I would say it’s more of an overarching look at this formidable character. Formidable, at least, when played by Jennifer Lawrence.

Lawrence dominates the film, as she tends to do. This is my least favourite role of hers, but she undeniably brought Joy to life and made her believable amidst the mess and theatrics.

While some say Lawrence is overrated, and it’s true she seemed to be everywhere all at once, she’s good at what she does and this film would have fallen apart without her.

Lawrence leads a mixed cast consisting of Robert De Niro as her father, Edgar Ramirez as her ex-husband/friend/advisor (this combination works in the most touching way), Dascha Polanco as her best friend, Diane Ladd as her grandmother, and Bradley Cooper as a businessman.

Oh and Isabella Rossellini makes an appearance as Joy’s father’s girlfriend and her first financial backer.

Polanco and Ramirez were solid and Ladd wasn’t half bad. Cooper and De Niro have, at least in what I’ve seen recently, fallen into the habit of playing themselves and I would rather watch my screensaver. My screensaver is black.

Even so, most of the characters made valiant attempts to keep this film moving - but they were bailing out a sinking ship with broken teacups. Lawrence, bucket in hand, kept those splintering ruins mostly above water.

At the centre of the action, she led the madness and the mess and made sure this whole thing didn’t fall into chaos. Although it got close.

Dramatic, haphazard and overwrought, at times I felt like I was watching a bad play. The dialogue was so far from how real humans speak, the camera would linger for years on one person’s face, the grandmother narrated for no apparent reason all in hushed tones, sentences would be cut off mid-way through, and every now and then it would divert off to dreams, flashbacks, or imagination.

The construction of the film was so obvious - you could almost hear the whirring of the theatrics and the director yelling out “enter stage left”. Or at least him saying, “No I’m bored of this movie being a family drama, let’s take it to a sepia-toned flashback.”

I thought about the real Joy, hoped they would let the story speak for itself, wished they would take the schizophrenic kid away from the soundtrack so we could listen to more than 26 seconds of a song, and wondered where I could get a stiff drink.

But somewhere along the way I started to be drawn in by this character who was so goddamn resilient.

The dramatics weren’t quite so grating. I was more okay with being forced into another weird dream land, to look at a character’s minute facial expressions, listen to another clunky sentence. Even the end, which was utterly weird and unnecessary and made Joy into a plastic robot, could be tolerated.

I put my growing enjoyment at the hands of two things. One, you can get used to most things after a while, particularly when you remember what a joy (pun and irony intended) it is to go to the movies. Two, I loved getting to know this woman.

The young girl who loved making things, the mother working against a hundred things every day, and the woman launching her own business and taking on corporate America in the process.

As a by-product of being a theatrical Hollywood movie the story is glamorised, but it does reveal someone who forged their own path when everyone, even those with the best intentions, was saying both overtly and subtly their dreams were preposterous.

The camera zooms in on De Niro’s face, the lights dim, and he says his well-rehearsed line with a woeful look on his face, “It’s my fault, I gave her the confidence to think she was more than just an unemployed housewife.”

In the darkness of a wardrobe door her grandmother tells her that she was destined for great things, but first she needs to get married to a nice man and have some kids.

When Joy does experience success, it's in more of a real way than you usually see on-screen, especially in this sort of film. 

It's not a simple case of having an idea, brainstorming like a fiend with your daughter’s crayons, building something from scratch, catching a big break and living happily ever after.

It’s wins and losses, highs and lows, and it doesn’t end with a pat on the back and a big fat cake with a cherry on top. This movie shows life is gritty, and if you want to do something different you’ll have to be a bit mad and headstrong and everyone in your life will doubt you. But resolute strength will see you through and keep you alive.

So yes, I thought it could have done without trying quite so hard and being quite so irritating, but no, it wasn’t the worst. I started out frustrated but left the cinema excited to be a badass woman.

JLaw, call me, let’s get wine and take over the world. Oh and maybe bring your son since you ignored him during the whole movie.


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