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Categories: Movie Reviews

David O. Russel’s latest film is erratic and almost farcical, but it works thanks to a stellar lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence.

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Director David O’Russel always presents us with outlandish characters and circumstances. Joy, which could possibly be his most unusual film yet, is no exception. The film is a half-fictionalised biopic of Joy Mangano, a woman who made her humble millions from her own invention, the Miracle Mop. It’s an unusual plot, but with it O’Russell has reinvented the domestic drama with cinematic pleasures and quality performances. 

Joy is a single mother of two with a rather unorthodox living situation. When her father Rudy (Robert De Niro) has been kicked out by his girlfriend, he comes to live in the basement along with Joy’s own ex-husband and would-be singer Tony (Édgar Ramírez). Joy’s mother (Virginia Madsen) spends her time in bed watching tacky soap operas, whilst Joy spends all of her time doing housework, being a mum and making a living.

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This description might make Joy sound like a bit of a domestic superhero, but eventually it all becomes too much for her and she decides to take a new direction. Joy has been inventing things her whole life, and when she comes up with the Miracle Mop she knows it will drastically change her life for the better. Enter big time cable television executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), who helps guide Joy to her success by helping her sell the mop on his network QVC.  Joy is a rags-to-riches fairy tale story, and in it Jennifer Lawrence shines with self-empowerment and determination.

The eccentric family drama is David O’Russell’s speciality, and though his latest revolves very much around Jennifer Lawrence’s character, the unconventional dynamics of her family play a huge part, not only in the story but also in its style and multiple tonal layers. It’s a plot like no other, a family drama about the making of the Miracle Mop, but whilst that may seem a rather dull concept, O’Russell has managed to create an emotional drama with brilliant comic timing.

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The characters may be erratic, as they usually are in O’Russell’s films, but the selfishness and honesty of these personalities gives them something real that we can get behind. One particularly satisfying and uplifting scene, combining excellent performance with constant camera movement, is when Joy is demonstrating how the Miracle Mop works live on television. In trying to act for the camera, she freezes, but when she tries to just be herself, we soon see the sales numbers rise as the telephones constantly ring. You can’t help but feel anxious, and then relieved, something which can happen quite often in O’Russell’s work. 

Joy has a stellar cast, with many of O’Russell’s favourites returning. He seems to have a great relationship with Lawrence, De Niro and Cooper, and they all give brilliant performances, ones that are both dramatic and comical. This is a very rare thing, so no wonder this collaboration has made a comeback. Jennifer Lawrence is resilient throughout her performance, holding together a plot which would most likely flop without her. We can emotionally engage with Joy, and invest in her ideas and motivations. O’Russell has built a dysfunctional, almost farcical narrative, but with Lawrence in the spotlight it all comes together. Let us hope their alliance stays strong, as there really isn’t that much doubt that we’ll see more from these collaborators soon. 

Joy is out now in cinemas. 

As a film fanatic, I love to write/talk about them as well as making short form films. I aspire to host my own screening events and one day make a feature film.

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Posted on Jan 21, 2016

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