Oh, JOY, What a Mess

by Elizabeth Stoddard

2015 has been a fantastic year of women’s lives depicted on film, given the release of Brooklyn, Carol, Mustang, and Testament of Youth, just to name a few. Joy, the bare semblance of a bio-pic of inventor Joy Mangano by director David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), is nowhere near the excellence of those movies.

Annie Mumolo, who co-wrote Bridesmaids with Kristin Wiig, spent a year penning the original screenplay for Joy. For some reason — ego? — director Russell decided her work wasn’t enough and reconfigured it (leaving her with “story by” credit only). Now the film is a supposed “composite” of female inventors’ lives — although it still leans heavily on Mangano’s life story. I have to think that Mumolo’s original script made more sense than the mess Russell puts on the screen. Let’s be real here: if a woman had directed this movie, with such a dissonant final cut, her next project would have difficulty being funded.

Jennifer Lawrence is cast as aforementioned Joy, but she can’t be blamed for the faults of the picture. True, one of the faults is her being miscast as a flustered 30-something divorcee, but even an older actress in the role would be challenged to bring coherence to Joy. Russell loves to cast actors he’s worked with before, so there’s a Silver Linings Playbook reunion of sorts here. Indeed, as my friend commented, Robert De Niro seems to be under the impression he’s still playing the role he did in that earlier film.

I usually give some plot breakdown in my reviews, but as I barely understood this plot, I can’t really elucidate much. Here goes: Joy is an inventor, mother of two, daughter of a mother (Virginia Madsen) addicted to soap operas* and an abrasive dad (De Niro), and her ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) lives in her basement, practicing his music. There’s also her grandma (Diane Ladd) who spouts inspiration and narrates the film. They all live in the same house because the story isn’t chaotic enough on its own. Lawrence plays straight while everyone else seems to act at a overexcited level, as if this was a Terry Gilliam film.

Inspired by friends and family, a frustrated Joy comes up with an idea for a mop like no other. She earns a spot on QVC and the mops start selling. There’s some plotline about trademark or patent but it is so weak that when it factors into the denouement, it’s hard to care much.

There is no common tonality to the movie as the story clunks along. Joy has no idea what it wants to be, so it ends up being not much of anything at all.

*One of the highlights of this film is actually the soap within the film, as it stars real-life soap actors Susan Lucci (All My Children) and Maurice Benard (General Hospital).

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