In David O. Russell’s latest cinematic offering, working mum Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) endeavours to make something of herself whilst the mundanity of her family life threatens to ground her dreams and potential. In a fitting example of life imitating art, Jennifer Lawrence is tasked with the similar struggle of staying afloat despite the attempts of a clunky and lacklustre script to drag her down. Thankfully, like her real-life counterpart, she is not beaten.
In a nutshell, Joy tells the tale of the inventor of the Miracle Mop, whose rags-to-riches story was driven by her own creativity and entrepreneurial flair. As inspiring as Joy the character may be, though, there are glaring problems with Joy the film. The dialogue is painfully amateurish at best, miles away from the from the freshness of Russell’s script for Silver Linings Playbook and the originality of American Hustle. Tonally, it never works out exactly what it is trying to be, veering wildly between soapish melodrama and genuine efforts to present a believable biopic. The plot itself meanders about, eluded by a decent structure, floundering even at the notion of knowing where to end.
And yet, despite the flaws by which she is surrounded, Lawrence shines. She lights up the screen in every scene, and elevates an otherwise average film into something that is at the very least enjoyable and even somewhat engaging. Technically, she is perhaps too young for the role that she has been given; but Lawrence is Russell’s muse, and this was never going to be an obstacle for him. This decision pays off, too, because there is such a maturity about her that age does not matter for one moment.
The film does have some merits beyond its central performance. Other acting highlights include a solid, reliable Robert De Niro in the role of Joy’s unstable, unreliable father, and an on-form Bradley Cooper as the QVC executive who gives Joy the break she needs. Moreover, a well-chosen selection of songs gives the film well-needed bursts of flavour not provided by its script.
The pervading idea of the film is that, every single day, “the ordinary meets the extraordinary.” It is a statement that is true of the Miracle Mop and a statement that is true of Joy itself. It is a wholly ordinary film met by a wholly extraordinary actress.