I went with little excitement to see Joy, which has a 6.7 out of 10 stars on IMDB and 60% on Rotten Tomatoes, as I’ve heard mediocre reviews and I’m really not a big Jennifer Lawrence fan. A lot of people are singing her praises, but I found her performances as Katniss in the last two Hunger Games films to be bad. Her ability to cry on screen is weak and she is essentially the same character in all the films. Add in that I’ve only seen two David O. Russell films, American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook (and I only really like Silver Linings), and this trip to the theater had negative review written all over it. In the first five minutes I was already debating on whether it would fall below the 6 ranking.
This film is basically about an underdog who shouldn’t be able to succeed in the world she has thrust herself into and I put this film into that role. This film so pleasantly surprised me by the end that I’m happy to say it was much better than I expected. Could it be that I set the bar so low it was able to just step over it and move on so anything Russell put on screen would have wowed me, or did this film pull a Rocky and come out fighting with so much enthusiasm that it was able to win over the hearts of the audience? Jennifer Lawrence gave what I believe is her best on-screen performance and turned my popcorn into crow as I put handful after handful into my mouth.
Joy is about, well, Joy (Lawrence) and her family that seems extremely dysfunctional. She is unhappy that she had put all of her dreams on hold and now finds herself struggling to get by while still supporting so many other people around her as they pursue their own interests. She had longed dreamed of being and inventor and after cutting her hands on some broken class she is inspired to create the Miracle Mop. Really, this story isn’t all that high stakes, but it did have characters that I was able to get behind. Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rosselini, Dascha Polanco, and a few others do a great job of bringing this story together.
I believe this blog may play a factor in my appreciation of the struggle that Joy was going through. While this business isn’t nearly as hard to start as hers, I found that her fear of failure echoed mine. This may be a SPOILER, but given that the film is based on a true story I’m going to go ahead and discuss the scene that let me knew I was all-in on this character and film. The first time her Miracle Mop gets on QVC they have their #1 seller demonstrate it, and it ultimately is a disaster. While his voice could be heard and the entire family sat staring at the TV in disbelief that this was happening, him saying “There are no sales yet?” and “Still no sales” as they soon cutaway to a different product. I felt the crushing blow of defeat and found myself wondering “what now?”
Lawrence’s performance was the most mature I’ve seen her have to play. She was tough yet tender, and firm but vulnerable. That was exactly what Joy had to be in order to make her work as a character. She was a mother, an ex-wife, a daughter, an advisor, and a dreamer. All of these qualities are seen in the film and when she finally breaks down and cries, it feels real and not over the top as her scenes have been in the past. Even in Silver Linings Playbook I felt she was a bit over the top even for her eccentric character. This film has put her back on the list of talented actresses and currently off my list of overrated ones.
I sat in the theater as the opening scenes played out, like the odd choice to open with a soap opera, which would later prove to be a parallel for her world, thinking this would be a boring two hours. I’m not sure that the choice to make the soap opera so prominent was the right one. The framing device of the film is that her grandmother, played by Diane Ladd, is telling Joy’s story, but I’m not sure it was necessary. In fact, there is a part of narration that makes even less logical sense. Nonetheless, I walked out shaking my head that the film has inspired me and made me root for her. I give Joy and 8 out of 10 patents pending.