I watched this movie on my flight from Singapore to Hanoi. International flights are usually a chance for me to catch up with the movies I never bothered to see at the cinema and I often end up watching a whole load of rubbish. Joy isn’t quite rubbish, but it’s not particularly good either. It’s a third straight collaboration between David O. Russell and his Oscar-winning muse Jennifer Lawrence, and it’s easily the weakest of the three. Though ultimately forgettable, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle at least entertained me while I watched them, but Joy just never gets off the ground.
The movie is based on the real-life story of Joy Mangano, a Long Island divorced mother and the inventor of the self-wringing mop who ends up building her own business empire. Not that you’d know any of this from the pre-release advertising, because there’re surely few less sexy words to describe your movie with than “self-wringing mop”. At the beginning of the film, Joy shares her house with her dysfunctional family including her divorced father (Robert De Niro) and mother (Virginia Madsen), her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) and her grandmother (Diane Lane). As a little girl, Joy used to spend time making things, but then life got in the way and her dreams were put on a back burner, until one day she comes up with an idea for a mop you can wring without using your hands, and decides to use it as a ticket to a better life.
There’s no reason why this underdog rags-to-riches story couldn’t have worked, but most of the film just feels off and messy. It spends a lot of time on Joy’s family and their individual quirks, but these characters mostly come off as one-note. While I can’t fault Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as such and her commitment to the role is unquestionable, they really need to stop casting her in the parts she’s obviously too young to play. She just about got away with it in American Hustle, but here I never got over the impression of watching a kid playing dress-up among grown-ups. Lawrence just doesn’t convince as a hardened mother lamenting the loss of years when she looks barely out of her teens with her fringe and ponytail. Her best scenes, and the movie’s best scenes overall, happen when Joy’s persistence leads her to the QVC shopping network, where she meets a producer (Bradley Cooper) who decides to give Joy’s Miracle Mop a chance. I couldn’t decide whether or not the movie was somewhat sending up the whole shopping network business (which, let’s face it, has more than a touch of tacky and ridiculous to it), but no matter, the scenes where Cooper’s character demonstrates the inner workings of the show, and Joy’s subsequent appearances on it, have the energy the rest of the film lacks. And yikes, it actually has a scene where the main character cuts her hair to tell the world that she’s now a Brand New Determined Woman. I’m a cliche, hear me roar!