This is the third time that director David O. Russell has teamed up with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (after Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle). Both of those movies were almost unanimously loved and even scored lots of Oscar nominations (though only Lawrence’s performance in Silver Linings Playbook won any). Can the third time be a charm?
After watching the previews for Joy, I couldn’t tell you what it was about. It looked like a music video set to the mundane life of a working mom. That’s all I got from it.
The real gist is that Joy (Lawrence) is struggling to make ends meet, with her divorced parents, her ex-husband, two kids, and grandmother all living under the same roof, with Joy being the only one who is holding things together. Her parents (Robert De Niro and Virginia Madsen) fight all the time and her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) can’t keep a job so he lives in her basement. Joy has always been creative and we learn at the outset that she has incredible ideas but doesn’t have the means to make them happen. With the introduction of a producer at the QVC channel (Bradley Cooper), she might just be able to make it big.
Jennifer Lawrence knocks it out of the park again. It’s no surprise that she’s the highest paid actress in Hollywood. She’s consistently putting out award-worthy movies and also huge blockbuster franchises (Hunger Games and X-Men!). Here, she delivers a nuanced performance that makes Joy empathetic but also a force to be reckoned with. At the beginning of the movie, her family tells her as a child that she just needs to grow up and find a husband and Joy responds by telling them that she doesn’t need a man. And this movie definitely carries that theme. Joy is a powerhouse and self-sufficient. She’s still very faulted though, as she makes mistakes and struggles through this journey as well, but it’s a story about determination and she absolutely nails it.
Visually, director David O. Russell does a great job here with the setting. Snow, and the holiday season specifically, give him a lot to work with. It’s a gorgeous movie and Russell uses a lot of methods to give us backstory, such as flashbacks and even dreams/nightmares to showcase what’s motivating Joy.
What doesn’t work?
While the rest of the family is nicely cast, they don’t get much to do. Especially Robert De Niro feels underused, as he is only shown when it directly pertains the plot at that moment. This is definitely Joy’s story, which is fine, it just feels like a waste of talent. Likewise, Cooper only arrives in the second half of the film.
Here’s a weird thing. I don’t quite know how to articulate this… There were parts of this movie that were so stressful, like Joy was going through so much unneeded drama, that I literally almost felt queezy. You think the movie’s over and she’s succeeded… and there’s still more. While the movie is definitely a good watch, it’s not necessarily an enjoyable watch. You likely won’t need to catch it a second time.
Joy is a good film. As good as Silver Linings Playbook? No. Will Lawrence still get an Oscar nom? Hopefully, as this is one of the best performances I’ve seen this year and the movie is entirely hers. That’s the problem though, as the great supporting cast don’t get much to do. It also takes a good hour to really get the plot moving forward, so some viewers might lose patience with it. I hesitate to say many of you will “enjoy” this movie, but plenty of you will likely watch Lawrence’s performance and totally appreciate it. If that’s what you’re looking for, Joy might be for you.