“The world doesn’t owe you anything.”
David O. Russell had the best weekend of his career with $17.5 million for Joy, but the inspiring true story of Joy Mangano, a self-made millionaire who created her own business empire, left me bored and uninspired.
With the exception of 2010’s commercially successful The Fighter, director David O. Russell’s resume consists of underground indie movies such as Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees. Then came Jennifer Lawrence who propelled both their careers into the mainstream spotlight– they’re the peas and carrots of Hollywood.
The new era of David O. Russell has become more accessible with the help of his holy trinity of actors–Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert de Niro who all starred in his highly praised Silver Linings Playbook and the mediocre yet entertaining American Hustle.
O. Russell brings out some of the best performances from his actors, and with such a steady mainstream climb, I thought Joy had the potential to be great.Three times a charm, right? Not quite. What I was given instead was an ambitious attempt at making me care about a character who offers little to care about. Her struggles, debt and family turmoil conclude with a cookie-cutter triumph in the end.
So what’s David O. Russell doing with this movie?
The story of Joy follows Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of three in the early 1990s, who invented the Miracle Mop becoming an overnight success often selling on the Home Shopping Network and QVC.
The film is a somewhat fictionalized account of Joy’s quick rise to the top with inspirational intentions that fall flat. Lawrence recently told TIME that the movie is only 50% inspired by Mangano. The other half, Lawrence says, comes from “David’s imagination and different daring women that have inspired him.”
Unfortunately, the inspiration didn’t translate on screen.
As the mortgage, the phone bill, the plumbing and other relentless problem’s in Joy’s life mount, I’m being spoon-fed how Joy is a superhero woman. Sure, she’s a tough protagonist, but I feel completely empty watching this story unfold despite Jennifer Lawrence doing her damnest to give another great performance.
But it’s dull. Joy is absolutely begging for me to care about it, but I’m too busy counting the minutes till the credits roll.
None of the characters in Joy are inspiring; we may be shown inspirational acts or monologues, but the payoff is lacking that certain je ne sais quoi. The script is very functional at mapping out how brilliant Joy is as a mother, daughter and working woman; even certain dialogue is transparent at spelling out her brilliance in case you didn’t quite get it in every single scene.
You know what David O. Russell scene really inspired me? Robert de Niro’s monologue in Silver Linings Playbook to Bradley Cooper’s character assuring him that he’s going to do everything he can to make sure he gets back on his feet. Remember that emotionally-charged scene? Yeah, you’re not going to find that type of inspiration in Joy, nor will you root for any of the characters like you have in past O. Russell films. You just won’t.
O. Russell also makes the mistake of having Joy’s grandmother, who has been the one pushing her since childhood to pursue creative endeavors, narrate the story. The narration only underscores how little action actually happens, and this narration from a character (who barely graces the screen) is telling us how to understand everything line by line.
“What the movie really lacks is a sensible turn, something that shows us how Joy went from disaster to triumph. All it offers on that score is the character deciding that she’s had enough and then, poof, she can suddenly overcome any obstacles simply because she wants to overcome them. It is a magical transition and a wholly unbelievable one. It takes what ought to be an inspiring, real world, tale and turns it into a pure fantasy, and not a very good one at that.” via IGN
The cast delivers another round of outstanding performances, but (like everyone else is saying in the blogosphere) they’re supported by weak subject matter with little intrigue. I don’t think this cast necessarily needs to take a break from their steadfast director, but David O. Russell needs to find the inspiration like he had in Silver Linings Playbook to deliver something great in the future.