Marking their third collaboration after Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, director David O. Russell re-teams with stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper for Joy, an engaging biopic of the inventor of the Miracle Mop, rendered in the director’s distinctive style.
Opening in the 1990s, the film stars Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a working-class single mother who lives in a suburban house with her invalid, soap opera-addicted mother Carrie (Virginia Madsen), her three young children, her beloved grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), her wannabe musician ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez), and her father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), who has just moved into the basement with Tony after being dumped by his latest girlfriend.
After being forced to clear up a red wine spillage on a yacht belonging to Rudy’s loaded new girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), Joy is inspired to invent her self-wringing mop (like Joy’s surname, the words “Miracle Mop” never appear in the film), with Mimi remembering how Joy was always very creative as a child, something the story confirms with a series of flashbacks to Joy as a young girl (played by Isabella Crovetti-Cramp). Bankrolled by Trudy and spurred on by Tony, Joy takes her creation to the QVC channel, where she impresses network boss Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper).
It’s become something of a Russell trademark to have a colourful supporting cast – frequently as the members of a dysfunctional family or group – providing constant noise and screwball-style mayhem. And that signature touch is put to excellent use here, with De Niro and Rossellini both wonderful as Rudy and Trudy, and Ramirez emerging as perhaps the sweetest and most supportive ex-husband in recent cinematic history.
Lawrence is on delightfully radiant form as Joy (the de facto head of her family), navigating the chaos of her life with steely determination and dutifully picking herself up and carrying on whenever she hits a setback. As such, she’s a joy to watch (literally) and her resourcefulness, creativity and sheer strength of character are nothing short of inspirational.
Russell’s direction is strikingly fluid throughout, the skilful editing (four different editors are credited and it’s tempting to assume he burned them all out) achieving what feels like a continuous rhythmic flow of scenes, so much so that you often find yourself out of breath. This is particularly evident in the film’s stand-out sequence, when Walker gives Joy an extended whirlwind tour of the QVC studio and her eyes and face light up, like Harry Potter arriving at Hogwarts, as her future snaps into focus before her eyes.
In addition, Russell flavours the atmosphere of the film with a dash of David Lynch, heightened by a number of filmed soap opera scenes (shades of Twin Peaks’ Invitation to Love) and the casting of Lynch veterans Ladd and Rossellini; this gives the story a sort of surreal fairy-tale feel, something further accentuated by the falling snow in one of the film’s most memorable shots (given prominence in the publicity campaign).
On top of that, the script is often very funny (co-writer Annie Mumolo also co-wrote Bridesmaids), while Russell works his usual wonders with the film’s soundtrack choices.
In short, Joy lives up to the promise of its title, thanks to a superbly written script, Russell’s dynamic direction and a captivating central performance from Jennifer Lawrence.