Jennifer Lawrence

Passengers

This movie copped a massive backlash upon its release last year, and in all honesty it was practically asking for it, with its grossly misleading trailers and advertising which treated its premise as a twist and in the end made some viewers feel like they received a pretty glittery gift box with a dead puppy inside.

Here’s what the bullshit summary on my DVD rental reads like:

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are two passengers onboard a spaceship transporting them to a new life on another planet. The trip takes a deadly turn when their hibernation pods mysteriously wake them 90 years before they reach their destination. As Jim and Aurora try to unravel the mystery behind the malfunction, they begin to fall for each other, unable to deny their intense attraction… only to be threatened by the imminent collapse of the ship and the discovery of the truth behind why they woke up.

Here’s what actually happens in the film (spoilers ahead):

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Winter’s Bone

winters-bone-2010-blu-ray-720p-mkv_snapshot_00-09-12_2010-11-29_23-48-50.jpgBleak and gritty drama set in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, featuring an outstanding breakout performance by the pre-Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence that actually deserved to win an Oscar (don’t get me wrong, she was good in Silver Linings Playbook, but I always thought that her win that year was about Hollywood crowning its new big bright star more than anything else).

Lawrence is Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old girl who is effectively the caretaking grown-up in her household, which includes two much younger siblings and mother who’s gone catatonic with depression. She gets by on welfare and kindness of neighbours (and squirrel hunting), until one day the local sheriff shows up at their ramshackle property. He informs Ree that unless her no-good father, who was busted for cooking meth, shows up at next week’s court date, she and her family will lose their house which he has put up to meet his bond. Determined to save the family home, Ree begins the search for her father and stirs up secrets everyone in her community, bound by its own code of silence, would rather keep down.

In this insular world of casual violence, which looks like modern-day rural Depression, almost everyone Ree turns to for help is involved in dodgy activities and is more or less related to her, the closest being her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes). Her desperation is met with a mix of menace and reluctant empathy, as people would rather not have her ask questions yet still feel compelled to help out a blood kin. You never know whether the next person Ree meets is going to help or hurt her, and the finale, while never explicitly shown, is unbelievably cruel and gruesome. But Ree is more than strong enough to meet the challenges ahead of her, and Lawrence really brings to life her courage and her still yet fierce centre. Her heroism is the heroism of an ordinary person pushed into extreme circumstances, who goes on simply because they must – at one point, one of the women Ree visits asks her in disbelief if there isn’t a grown man around to sort out the father problem, and Ree’s simple answer is that no, there isn’t. At the same time, the movie doesn’t necessarily put Ree above her environment in Good Ree vs Horrible Rednecks sort of way; she’s very much a part of that world and the film lives among its people rather than looks down on them.

Joy

joyI 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!