Sunday, 3 January 2016

Joy (2016) (Review)


Joy's opening screen reveals that the film was 'inspired by daring women. One in particular', implying Joy Mangano, who we spend the next 124 minutes observing her rise, fall and resurgence as the inventor of the Miracle Mop, all whilst being a divorced mother of two, and supporting her pressurising family who don't believe in her half as much as she believes in herself, her mind and her product. Joy, a comedy-drama, marks the third time collaboration of Jennifer Lawrence and David O'Russell, whose winning formula (all of which include a sprinkle of Bradley Cooper and R, for good measure) has seen the Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Is third time a charm in this latest offering?

Joy (Lawrence) is on the brink of debt when her father (De Niro) is dropped off on her door step from a previous relationship gone wrong - adding to her already bustling family home, which houses her conservative mother, grandmother-come-narrator, ex-husband (Edger Ramirez) and their two children. Trapped in a rut, she revives her childhood hobby of inventing, leading her to mastermind the Miracle Mop. Catching her break on QVC, thanks to executive Neil Walker (Cooper), she begins to soar to success, only to be hit with further troubles and complications, landing her in a worse position than before - no thanks to overachieving sister, Peggy and Trudy, her Dad's new girlfriend. Whether success can be resuscitated lies solely in her own hands from this point forth.

Preconceptions might have you questioning whether anyone actually wants to watch a film about a Mop, but many important and crucial life lessons can be identified in the narrative; perseverance, empowerment and dedication are found in abundance, a plethora of emotions and experiences shaping this story. The intensity of these emotions and themes is disconcertingly noticeable - in the best way possible - as what some may assume a throwaway story and simple passion project is transformed into a story with true emotional sonority and depth in an unexpected way.

The fact I found this out is devoted to one person - Jennifer Lawrence. Like many, her involvement is the reason an interested developed in the project personally, as I've continually supported and followed her work, admiring her incredible talent which never fails to move and amaze me. And surprise, surprise, she gives another Oscar-worthy performance as the troubled, yet hopeful, titular character. Initially skeptical about the film, it defied my expectations thanks to her engaging, empathetic and inspiring performance, filled with pathos and resonance that made the journey wholly enjoyable. Undoubtedly, the cast is a strong ensemble, but few instances occur where they hold even a flicker to Lawrence's captivating showcase as Mangano. Whilst she's featured in better films in her past, this is arguably one of the strongest performances to date, as the generational portrayal would expectedly pale in other hands.

O'Russell's direction is strong and clear, although maybe dips in execution and delivery when compared to his stellar previous releases with Lawrence. Unfortunately, comparisons are expected and justified, and when you released films with RT approval ratings of 92% and 93%, it's a tough act to live up to. He still manages to convey a raw and candid portrayal of the real-life story, thanks to lingering shots and solid cinematography, but to a less successful degree for a reason I struggle to name - maybe its the fact-based approach, where his previous have had opportunities to breath and develop freely of real-life restraints. Narrative structure is also a slight issue, as the third act can feel slightly over-drawn, saved only by Lawrence really cranking up the emotion.

Joy is surprisingly enjoyable outside the performance of Lawrence - it really manages the mix between drama and comedy, with some genuinely funny moments - but she is again the beating heart of proceedings. Lawrence channels the emotions and themes present in a faultless manner that must be applauded for the power it is handled in. Mangano is without doubt a truly inspiration figure for her grit and drive in the face of adversary, but perhaps when the film introduces the 'daring woman' that inspired it, Lawrence herself is at the very top of that list.

Summary: Joy surprisingly frees itself from the dubious preconceptions one might hold for a story about a Mop, but Jennifer Lawrence's sensational performance sparks the titular emotion, calling for another Oscar nomination for the star.

Highlight: Joy finally making her way to QVC is a defining moment in both Mangano's life and the film, with Jen's delivery of elation and emotion perfect. Hearing Lawrence sing 'Something Stupid'' is also worth the ticket price alone.

✬☆
(8.5/10)


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