Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper
Joy Mangano (Lawrence) has always been the creative type, and when she finally has enough of living a poor, humble existence in a house with the entire unconventional four generations of her family, she decides to take the biggest risk of her life and invest in one of her inventions; the self-wringing mop. Despite constant setbacks and obstacles, she is determined to realise her dreams.
Oh what has happened to David O. Russell?!? He was once a very exciting director, but it seems that ever since the excellent The Fighter he has continued to disappear up his own backside and make completely shallow, vacuous films with plenty of style, but no real substance, and most certainly more than a hint of smug self-indulgence. Well, it really does give me no pleasure to say that Joy continues his decline to be his most alienating, patronising and insulting film yet.
For its entire uninvolving two hours O. Russell gives us a film that is told with total incompetence in terms of the structure and the inconsistent tone, but it is his presentation of emotion that is the true insult to the intelligence of cinema goers. How much is fact and fiction is not necessarily an issue, especially as Joy really does have the potential to be an engaging and emotionally uplifting story, but O. Russell well and truly makes a hash of it by over emphasising everything.
Instead of allowing the story and its characters to portray emotions naturally, everything is over emphasised and rammed downed the audiences throat in an approach that makes it feel like O. Russell does not trust the audience to make their own conclusions but have to be spoon-fed what to think and feel. This could partly be down to the fact O. Russell is aware of Joy’s narrative and tonal incompetence and is trying to make up for it, but only serves to make the whole viewing experience even worse. The poorly overwritten emphasis on which character we are supposed to dislike or route for often borders onto sheer caricature, likewise scenes which are supposed to show our protagonist down on her luck and defying the odds just feel farcical.
It is not only how the characters are presented that is bad, but also the entire narrative presentation is completely slapdash with the entire story being told with no real narrative coherence as we go from one sequence to another. Once again O. Russell seems to have decided before even writing the script what songs he wants to use and it is then determined to use them in scenes even if the scene itself sticks out like a sore thumb as being pointless. Likewise scenes or lines of dialogue that are supposed to be funny often feel misjudged, and this combined with the poor character development, extreme contrivances and serious scenes over emphasising everything and telling the audience what they have to think and feel makes for an extremely alienating and uninvolving experience where it impossible to care about any character.
The performances too are not great, with only Virginia Madsen as Joy’s mum Terry bringing any genuine emotion. However in the same way that some of humour at the expense of mental health in Silver Linings Playbook felt misjudged at times, so does some of the supposed humour that is at Terry’s expense, only adding to the tonal mess. Jennifer Lawrence herself lacks the range to portray her character’s journey; she is admittedly very good when depicting Joy during the times she is desperate and down on her luck (though every other element of the film prevents us from caring too much), but she just lacks the range or screen presence to convince as Joy when she is at her most determined or is reversing the odds.
Joy is a horrible mess that makes it look like David O. Russell is a filmmaker that is either deluded, incompetent or both, but the fact is that some of his previous films have proved he can do much better than this narrative detritus. Must try much, much harder next time David!
What could have been a truly engaging and uplifting underdog story has been turned into an alienating and uninvolving mess of a film by David O. Russell; Thanks to an extremely inconsistent tone and total narrative incompetence, the experience of watching Joy is most certainly devoid of any emotions similar to that of the title.