“The only thing that you’re ever gonna have is what you make.”
Another year, another collection of films chasing statues that they quite possibly don’t deserve. Another day, another film inspired by a true story. Another David O. Russell film, another wasted Jennifer Lawrence performance. Ladies and gentlemen, Joy.
Joy is the “true story” of Joy Mangano, the struggling mother-of-two who invented the Miracle Mop and is the latest film from David O. Russell; director of the excellent Three Kings and The Fighter but doesn’t seem to have produced much of note since. His third film in a row to star Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper seems to be following quite a steep downward trajectory in terms of writing, direction and just generally having the ability to be interesting in almost any way.
Jennifer Lawrence is the titular Joy, a young woman with aspirations to be an inventor but is stuck. She’s stuck in a dead end job; stuck living in a house with her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) living in the basement; stuck with her mother (Virginia Madsen) who lives and dies by the soap operas she has developed an unhealthy addiction to and now, stuck with her father (Robert De Niro) who has been dumped on her doorstep by the latest woman in his life. Working herself silly trying to make ends meet, Joy has become a dab hand at almost everything and can do a bit of anything; from your standard household chores to a quick repair of the house plumbing.
After cutting her hand cleaning up a broken glass on the boat of Trudy (Isabella Rossilini), her father’s latest squeeze, Joy goes home with an idea for a new type of mop, one that wrings itself to prevent accidents like the one she suffered on that day. As the ideas keep coming, Joy convinces Trudy to invest in her and her product. Struggling at first to get her idea off the ground, between shady companies she’s forced to work with for manufacturing and interference of almost every member of her family; Joy gets a break when she’s introduced to Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), an expert salesmen who is a fundamental part of the newly formed QVC shopping channel and Joy seems destined to make her fortune.
Bad business and worse advice means that life isn’t all plain sailing for Joy, but we get to see this young woman’s resolve as she refuses to give up on her family, her invention or her dreams.
Joy clocks in at two hours and change. And in that two hours, the only thing that David O. Russell manages to convince me of is that maybe he needs to rethink his strategy when he’s writing and directing movies. I mean, I’ve seen films that on paper should be boring but are in fact, excellent – I’m looking at you, Whiplash – but this is a mess of a film that would be simply bad if it wasn’t trying so hard to put me to sleep. I’m assuming that the point of Joy’s family was to make me so angry that I considered getting up and walking out of the cinema uttering coarse abuse at the douche canoe of imbeciles on the screen. Between De Niro’s skulking, manipulating dad; Madsen’s moronic mum and her attention seeking arsehole of a sister (Elisabeth Röhm), Joy is surrounded with idiots that do nothing but hold her back.
But that was pretty much my only strong reaction that I think was intended by the guys behind the camera. All my others circled somewhere between boredom and annoyance at almost all times. I’m sorry, but you can’t take the story of the woman who invented the Wonder Mop and make her story one anybody wants to see. I need a reason to care about the people on screen and whether or not someone can get their product into the Betterware catalogue just ain’t going to do it. The cast try their hardest, but there’s nothing there for them to get me invested. De Niro is doing his best to prove that he’s going senile in his old age and has forgotten how to pick a great role (see the incoming Dirty Grandpa) while Madsen just seems desperate to be on the big screen and willing to do anything; including play a soap addicted imbecile who’s behaviour is borderline retarded the whole way through.
My love of Jennifer Lawrence in roles that aren’t The Hunger Games took a severe knock here too. I don’t hate her, I just don’t think she’s right for the part. We all know she can carry a big film – and even a big franchise – but that doesn’t mean she should be doing everything that comes across her desk. One of my favourite young actresses is wasted here, looking far too young to be playing the part and given a par-boiled script that fell flat the entire time. I’ll admit to enjoying Cooper’s part. The super smart sales guy role suits him and he played it very well. If the acting jobs ever dry up, he’ll make a great addition to your local Ford dealership.
One last thing, I don’t think I can mention this enough. This is the film about the woman who invented the Miracle Mop! I mean, how much scraping of the true story barrel has been done to mean that we’re left with this? I really think there must be something better around that’s worth looking at first. The coffee mug with a biscuit holder? The Wonderbra? The stink bomb? Anything! No, ladies and gentlemen, we get the self squeezing mop. And don’t let that trailer fool you. You know the one I mean don’t you? It’s nothing like what’s advertised. Don’t waste your energy, fall asleep in your living room chair in front of a good film instead.