Jennifer Lawrence shines in a film that's both authentic and fanciful.
Sarah Ward
Published on December 21, 2015


David O. Russell clearly knows when he's onto a good thing. Over the last few years, the writer/director has found a formula that works and it seems like he's sticking with it. He casts actors Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, tells stories of ordinary folks trying to escape dysfunction and chase better lives; and adopts a tone that shifts between harsh reality and fairytale. First Silver Linings Playbook. Then American Hustle. Now, his latest effort, Joy.

This time around, Russell offers up a fictionalised account of the rise of a real-life home shopping network star. In the early 1990s, Joy Mangano (Lawrence) was a Long Island divorcee coping with caring for her two young children while living in a house with her daytime TV-loving mother (Virginia Madsen), ailing grandmother (Diane Ladd), singer ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) and thrice-married father (De Niro). Then, while cleaning up spilled wine, she came up with the idea for the first-ever self-wringing mop. Enter an Italian investor (Isabella Rossellini), and, eventually, a television executive (Cooper).

Yes, Joy is a rags-to-riches tale of a battler trying to improve herself and her situation; however it's also something more. It wrestles Russell's current patterns and preferences into a canny character study, watching on as a woman fights for agency and control, despite constantly being told that she should take care of others and reign in her go-getting ways. Weaving in surreal soap opera segments — and at its best when it's following its protagonist on the small screen or in the studio — the film becomes an astute and engaging dissection of the power of selling a fantasy.

Of course, the latter works so well because that's exactly what the movie does, with Joy's success never in doubt (the film notes at the outset that it's inspired by stories of brave women, including one in particular). Indeed, Joy sells its namesake's journey from domestic unhappiness to business domination by making everything seem equally authentic and fanciful. The movie casts a dream-like sheen over crumbling interiors, proceeds at a lively pace through tough moments, and favours an upbeat soundtrack, all to create a purposefully wavering mood. In doing so, it manages to remain sincere, not satirical.

That's where Lawrence proves pivotal too. When the going gets tough, she's determined rather than defeated; when everything appears to be coming together, she never patches over Joy's struggles. Her co-stars mightn't all fare as well, particularly De Niro's disapproving dad. Still, Madsen and Rossellini have their comic moments, and Ramirez and Cooper benefit from less chaotic roles. Besides, such a mix of performances feels fitting. Joy pairs a filmmaker's usual tricks and tendencies with a mostly-true tale of tenacity, serving up amusement and insight in the process.


Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x