review//JOY

Grade: B

JOY
Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper

With their third outing together, director David O. Russell and actress Jennifer Lawrence have almost mastered the act of character study in regards to women with wavering pasts and how they never back down. Unlike in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, in Joy we get a firsthand glimpse of the emotional inferno driving each layer of our heroine, from family to bad life decisions to an impending successful future.

Joy, the unabashed matriarch of a teetering family that includes her own mother and father, grew up a dreamer forced by her own decisions, rich in the same emotional fibers that wrecked her family before her, to face reality as a forlorn, working girl instead of reaching for the stars. From the time she was a kid, she was a creative force. But, as life goes, growing up isn't always so welcoming to the grand ideas you have. Pulled apart by her parents' ugly divorce, and sewn together by her own early marriage, which ended in divorce, the Joy we get to know is one with a heavy heart and a hidden ambition.

Luckily, in a fit of last-chance optimism and happenstance encounter with broken glass, Joy finally gets the chance to prove her entrepreneurship, creating a wealthy kingdom of household products, sold on the platform of real life, real experience, and the real American dream.

What began as a project about Joy Mangano, creator of the Miracle Mop, evolved into a reverent salute to hardworking women in general. With that, director Russell allowed the story of Joy to work as more of a skeleton journey from hard knocks to personal acclaim. In the midst, however, we're left with more of a choppy sentiment, instead of a full, well-rounded inspiration.

A powerhouse performance by Lawrence is the main feature here. From the get-go, she is not only encapsulated in this idea of Joy, but allows herself to really hit each and every instance of growth and despair to a tee. In a pivotal scene in a hotel room in Texas, we see the subtle struggle in Joy to step up to the plate, giving the most capable sense of empowerment that can sum up the entire story. That dedication to the care of this woman is something we've come to expect from a performer like Lawrence, and, lucky for us, she rarely, if ever, disappoints.

The supporting cast comes and goes, with Isabella Rossellini acting as the highlight. Bradley Cooper isn't given enough, coming across as more of a cameo than the role I think he's intended to play. Robert De Niro has a certain charm about him, but, like Cooper, his character becomes more of a throwaway. Perhaps, though, that's intended. In a world where female characters generally act as basic, supporting tools, it's rather refreshing that the opposite happens here.

Russell knows how to present a picture, with every detailed perfectly in place. From makeup and clothing, to set pieces and orchestrated blocking, part of the enjoyment comes in the whole picture. What keeps Joy from being ultimately brilliant, however, is the faulty structure and choppy pace. It's over 2 hours and definitely feels like it. There's a lot of jumping from one milestone to the next, erasing any small, emotional trail through Joy's internal journey.

Overall, Joy is a swell picture, leaving any forlorn dreamer feeling just as empowered as Joy. Will it go down as one of Russell's most memorable projects? Probably not. But, any recognition Lawrence receives is well worth it.

Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 124 minutes

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