Movie Review: Joy

The end of December was weird for me. A lot of movies came out around the time I was out of town like Creed, Sisters, The Big Short, Point Break, Concussion, and Daddy’s Home. By the time I returned I wanted to make an effort to see them and never did. Either I was lazy, frugal, or keeping focus on the more recent releases. What matters is I was inconsistent in my work and I apologize. Starting this month, I will be addressing some of those movies in addition to ones that never came out. The first is Joy from director David O. Russell.

Compelled to break away from the confines of her life at home, Joy, played by Jennifer Lawrence, decides to pursue her dream of being an inventor. After creating the Miracle Mop, she becomes entrenched in the world of business and must fight her way to success.

The problems of Joy are also the reason why it works. Based the three movies I have seen (American Hustle, Sliver Linings Playbook, and Three Kings) and what I know from hearsay, Russell lets his actors do what they want and uses the rhythm of their performances determine where scenes go. I also get the impression he wants to be like Scorsese in the way he directs with a lot of zooms, pans, improv, and Rolling Stones in the score. Sometimes it works, but it always feels like Russell is trying too hard.

His method of directing actors hurts his movies. Silver Linings was okay, but I had to turn off American Hustle 40 minutes in because there was this strong air of apathy. No one seemed to care about telling a consistent story as they shouted stories at one another and went all out off script. Apparently, Russell did not care either and if the director and his actors are not going to care about telling a story, why should I about watching it?

In Joy the craziness fits with what it is trying to do. At the beginning there is a sequence of a run-of-the-mill soap opera with outrageous characters, serving as a framing device for Joy’s arc. She is afraid of becoming like her family, the personification of a soap opera. Her dad is a doddering old businessman and womanizer. Her mother is a recluse who hates men. Her ex-husband is a failed singer focused on attaining success. Her dad’s girlfriend is an aging widower that acts like a mobster. Each of the character’s actors are at full volume, taking control of scenes and doing what ever they want. De Niro is charming, Madsen is timid, Rossellini is fearsome, and Ramirez is ambitious.

While I advocate giving actors freedom to do what they want, artistic liberty ground Joy‘s pacing to a halt. Where there was a clear focus throughout, the places where the cast had free reign to improv dragged the runtime. As a result, the story meandered between longs stops as it struggled to reach one plot relevant detail to another. It was a frustrating sit as you just wanted the movie to get to the point, but the actors wanted to show you how good they are. It is a paradoxical problem because it works for what the movie is trying to do, but it is a pain to endure.

Being performance driven, Joy was mostly okay. Everyone except Joy was a one-dimensional sociopath, but because that was on purpose it is forgivable. Bradley Cooper pops up for half an hour and does his usual cool-guy shtick, minus the charisma. Like a lot of her movies, Lawrence is the best part. I do not know if she is just that amazing or her costars make a conscious decision to be average so she shines the brightest. Either way, this film was her bitch just like all the rest.

At this time I do not think Joy is in theaters anymore. With the flood of new releases, the success of Star Wars, and its lukewarm reception when it came out, I cannot imagine why it would stay in circulation. If you have an interest, I am afraid you will have to wait until it is out on DVD. For all its problems, I find it can be inspirational with its premise and it makes a good case for capitalism and egalitarianism.

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