Film Review: 'Joy'

At this festive time of year, with director and writer David O. Russell's "Joy" opening nationwide on Christmas Day, it may not be as joyous as we had all hoped for.

Take a dash of "I Love Lucy," a dysfunctional white, middle class family and the undeniable chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence and you have a movie inspired by the true story of Joy Mangano and her Miracle Mop.

It's Cinderella meets the shopping network in a rags to riches story that uses a strong lead to create a funny, inspirational film that leaves you a bit damp.

Joy was always making something as a young child. She lived to invent, and her grandmother knew that she would be a powerful woman someday. After trying to mop up broken glass of red wine on Trudy's yacht, Joy gets the idea to invent a self-wringing mop with interlocking loops of 300 feet of continuous cotton. Convincing Neil Walker (Cooper) to advertise her mop on the shopping channel, Joy gets financial backing and has 50,000 mops made to premier on the newest shopping marketing phenomenon of the 1980s and 1890s. The rest is Miracle Mop history.

Joy lives in one incredibly dysfunctional home. Her mother literally lives in her bed watching soap operas 24/7. Her ex-husband lives in the basement and when the film begins, her dad is moving in, and Joy has to separate the basement creating two sides with a roll of toilet paper down the middle of the room separating her ex and her dad. Joy's grandmother, Mimi lives upstairs along with Joy's two younger children. Everyone is dependent on Joy to handle everything from fixing the plumbing to being the main breadwinner with more dysfunction in her home than there are strands on her miracle mop. Within the first 10 minutes of the film, you are considering yourself lucky that you don't have Joy's life.

The cast of "Joy" includes Jennifer Lawrence as the beaten-down and yet never-give-up entrepreneur, Joy Mangano. Robert De Niro plays Joy's always-looking-for-love father, Rudy. Bradley Cooper plays Neil Walker, the QVC home shopping network manager that takes a chance on Joy and her mop invention. Edgar Ramirez plays Tony, Joy's ex-husband and best friend, aka Ricky Ricardo and a Tom Jones wannabe. You have to love the way these two exes treat each other. They get an A+ in divorce. Virginia Madsen plays Joy's cooky mother who lies around all day watching soap operas as a way of escaping from the world.

A cameo performance by Melissa Rivers, playing the role of her mother, Joan Rivers is a real highlight. It's amazing to see the physical resemblance of her mother as well as bringing forth a real familiarity to her mannerisms and speech.

The elegant Diane Ladd narrates the story and plays Joy's beloved grandmother who has complete faith that Joy will someday do great things. Isabella Rossellini rounds out the cast as Trudy, Rudy's newest wealthy love interest and Joy's financial investor. Soap opera fans will be in soap opera heaven seeing the film's opening with a few of their favorite stars including Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, and Maurice Benard.

All the elements are right for a great movie but "Joy" never quite reaches its full potential. A great cast, a heroine, a single working mom that beats the odds to become a success, and yet the movie is missing something. There are also more than a few major laugh out loud moments. Unfortunately, Lawrence and Cooper with all their onscreen magnetism never give the audience more than glancing smiles. This is disappointing for fans of this dynamic pair.

The film falls flat in taking the audience deep enough to really care. It only touches the surface. We want to root for Joy. Who wouldn't? She's down on her luck and struggling to support her kids but David O. Russell doesn't share enough of Joy's soul to make us truly care. Besides her love for her grandmother, the movie is missing emotional depth. We see dysfunction, jealousy of sisters, determination, and a working mom going through the motions. The relationship between Tony and Joy makes all divorce couples want to take notes, but the film leaves you feeling empty for love.

It's upsetting because "Joy" has moments that could have made this film one of the best of the year, but it doesn't seem to last throughout the entire movie. The film appears to spend just as much time if not more on interpersonal relationships/conflicts with Joy and her family, instead of focusing on it's strengths – Joy, her Miracle Mop, and her continued perseverance in acquiring the "American Dream". Others have commented that Lawrence may be slightly too young for a role like this. She is clearly a gifted actress, but a divorced mother who should be much older doesn't always come across properly in the 20-something Lawrence.

As expected, Jennifer Lawrence's performance is outstanding and carries a film that would probably be a flop without her. Facing adversity should have been enough with this great cast and director, but "Joy" is no miracle movie that leaves you feeling good or motivated. This semi-fictional and inspirational portrayal of Joy overcoming many obstacles to reach her goals is simply not told the proper way. The story itself is a fascinating one, but the approach in telling that story is a major letdown.

Between Lawrence's performance, the multiple very humorous laugh out loud moments, and the various award nominations it has received, from Best Actress to Best Comedy, Drama, or Motion Picture, etc., I would still recommend seeing the film for those interested.

"Joy" is rated PG-13 for brief strong language. The running time is two hours long.

Rated 3 out of 5 stars.

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Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment writer out of Dallas. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and when he is not reviewing movies, Hayden works in film production. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are simple and straightforward. Don't like what he has to say. Let him know at hpittman87@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at @HPMoviePitt. Enjoy the movies!


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