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A movie named Joy should have, well, a little more joy.

 

When the trailers first began to run for David O. Russell’s newest film Joy, I was thrilled. He is a director I really like who is smitten with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, continuing to cast them in his movies. I adored Silver Linings Playbook and enjoyed American Hustle. Jennifer Lawrence is Hollywood’s “it” girl- a trend I am completely okay with. She’s the everywoman who makes weird faces, falls down, and speaks her mind…who can also act with incredible talent. I’m one of the “we would totally be best friends” camp when it comes to J­Law. Bradley Cooper has taken quite a positive turn in the last few years, largely due in part to his connection with Russell. Unfortunately, this time around, these three couldn’t save this dull and lifeless story.

Joy follows the life of a single mother determined to sell her self­-wringing mop. Right off the bat, Lawrence’s casting is a weird choice to me. She’s supposedly a 35 or so year old divorcee played by a 25 year old (who has recently played a 17 year old). Jennifer Lawrence does not, under any circumstance, pass for an older woman. She still has the skin of a baby and her big doey eyes betray her; there is no way this woman is the age she is pretending to be. This is a bit of a sore spot with me. Directors and casting agents should work harder to find actresses that are closer to the ages they are playing. Plenty of older- and is 35 really older? no-­ actresses would fit the part. While Lawrence is trendy, it feels like an obvious ploy for money. This is a case of big name with a big draw, but less of a return than we’ve seen.

Jennifer Lawrence is perfectly adequate in her portrayal of Joy. It’s not the loud brash characters we’ve seen her play in Russell’s other movies. And I’m glad. Too many people get pigeonholed into a type of character when they have a lot more range than people give them credit for. The problem lies in the way Joy is written. Her character feels very two­-dimensional and not well developed. You can act your heart out, but if your character doesn’t have depth there is only so much that you can do. Joy, despite being the titular character, felt like a pawn in an uninteresting story about commerce and patent law, with a side of wacky family. A good old down-­on-­your-luck story usually has a lot of emotional connection to the audience and I found this sorely lacking. Frankly, I did not care about any of the characters, including Joy. Her setbacks didn’t upset me that much and her victories were not moving. Maybe I’m cynical and snobby, but I don’t know that a movie about QVC is fodder for great material.

The film is not bad. I’ve seen far worse. But it is missing many of the elements that make David O. Russell a good director. There were few moments of humor or laughter peppered throughout the film, something he has done so well in his other movies. It felt dry and flat, a mere series of events that happened rather than a compelling story. It felt like so many other stories: a girl marries young, has kids, gets divorced, tries to get her life together, her dad is unreliable, her mom is mentally unstable, etc. etc. etc. Been there, done that. There is little to the story that I haven’t seen before, mostly in a better way than portrayed this film. While Cooper, De Niro, and the rest of the cast are all fine, that’s really all I can say about them. They were fine. Even things like costuming, hair, and makeup seem a little too on the nose for the time period. Granted this doesn’t take place in our current time, but at least with American Hustle we still saw some beautiful style. So help us out a little here, Russell.

Walking away from a film disappointed is never a good experience, but that’s the risk you take when you go to the movies. Sometimes you see a masterpiece and sometimes you see a dud. This fell under the latter. Here’s hoping that the next David O. Russell film is more true to form because when he is good, he is so good. I won’t give up hope just yet.

 

Directed By: David O. Russell

Produced By: David O. Russell, Matthew Budman, John Davis, Megan Ellison, John Fox, Jonathan Gordon, Joy Mangano, Mary McLaglen, Ken Mok, Annie Mumolo, George Parra, Ethan Smith, Michele Ziegler

Written By: David O. Russell, Annie Mumolo

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Rohm

Distributed By: 20th Century Fox

Release Date: December 25, 2015

Run Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: PG ­13

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