Out of all the David O. Russell movies I’ve seen, JOY is the least fun to watch. And I’ve seen I HEART HUCKABEES.
This is not to say that JOY was a bad movie, because it’s absolutely not. But in terms of enjoyability, it ranks rather low, despite the fact that you can’t spell enJOYable without the name of this movie.
Even as I sit here looking at that last sentence, I want to remove it, but I won’t. The pun is bad, to be certain, but I stand by it.
I realize that sometimes writers and directors push to make certain characters frustrating and unlikeable. I realize that we’re not supposed to like them. But there were a few characters in JOY who I really hoped would get smacked. Hard. At one point, I almost swore at a character. Out loud in the theater. And believe me when I tell you that I’m not the type of person to try to interact at all with a movie. I don’t even clap when it’s done. But at one point when characters are talking trash about Jennifer Lawrence’s character, to her face, I almost said something. It was a frustrating scene where, despite her best efforts, the titular character was being shat upon by life. And the very people who were supposed to be supporting her, the same people who she bent over backwards for, were rubbing it in.
The toxic family aspects of THE FIGHTER are magnified in JOY. The quirky aspects of Jennifer Lawrence’s character from AMERICAN HUSTLE are gone, but her eternally hopeful nature and good heart from SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK appear for the majority of the film. The fact that it’s a true story makes it far more palatable, as do the strong performances and the presence of a silver lining or two as we build to a somewhat uplifting ending. But make no mistake, this film is no SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.
Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a single mom who acts as the cornerstone for her extremely dysfunctional family who don’t appreciate her. Moving back into her house is her father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), who is getting kicked out of his house by his third wife. He seems to be the catalyst for much of the strife in the house, as he is now under the same roof as his ex-wife Terry (Virginia Madsen) with whom he still doesn’t get along, his ex-mother-in-law Mimi (Diane Ladd), and now must share a room in the basement with his daughter’s ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez). Aside from Mimi, each of those individuals – living in her house – are a source of unnecessary stress in her life. Her half-sister from her father’s first marriage, Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), doesn’t live with Joy, but is just as bad as the others.
Bradley Cooper’s role as a QVC executive helps usher in a significantly more watchable second half of the film which benefits not only from the decrease in stressers, but also due to the reliance on drifting in and out of a soap opera fantasy world drops off. Cooper doesn’t have nearly the meaty role he had in AMERICAN HUSTLE, with significantly less screen time and a far less interesting character. When he speaks up, however, he does give a good performance. In a slightly larger role than Cooper with a few decent lines to deliver, Isabella Rossellini’s character serves multiple purposes and is performed very nicely. I like what I’ve seen from Dascha Polanco from Orange Is The New Black, but her role in this film didn’t lend itself to any significant recognition.
If you don’t mind films with characters who are both annoying and frustrating on purpose, check out JOY. For all the criticism, there’s enough positive about the film that I gave it an 8 out of 10.