In a tradition that spans the ages, and much like brussel sprouts and not enough beer, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a David O Russell movie featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. 2012 gave us the disappointing (for me, at least) Silver Linings Playbook. 2013 had the far more impressive American Hustle. 2014, if you remember, didn’t have a Christmas. And now this year, we have Joy.
If you saw the early trailer for Joy a few months ago, as I did, you may be forgiven for not having much of an idea as to what it was about. We had lots of Jennifer looking hopefully skyward, De Niro doing that shrug, family gatherings, some background sparklers. If that wasn’t enough of a clue, it turns out it’s a biopic of Joy Mangano, QVC queen and mop magnate. Maybe it’s no surprise that this wasn’t apparent in the previews. No matter. Mops it is.
At the start of the movie, we find Joy (Lawrence) divorced with a couple of kids, living in a small house with her mother, grandmother, her father and ex-husband, desperately trying to hold things together while her job and her family contrive to trip her up. Only her beloved grandmother truly believes in her and it’s this belief that helps turn the innocuous spilling of red wine on a yacht into the life-changing invention of Miracle Mop. Yay! After some difficulties in finding a market, she gets her break when her ex sets up a meeting with QVC’s main buying guy (Cooper). However, with family squabbles and legal wrangles about plastic molds, Joy’s successes are never long-lived.
In the hands of David O Russell, and performances from Lawrence, Cooper, De Niro and a surprisingly sinister Isabella Rossellini, we’re in assured hands but much like the customers of QVC, everything feels a little dialed-in.
Motivations, other than the steadfast belief of a grandparent, are never entirely clear so actions can be confusing and for a movie whose title is also an emotion, there are very few moments where any sort of reaction is generated. Stuff happens. Joy bounds from one setback to the next. Her family juggle crazy and jealousy while hurling spanners with astonishing accuracy at the works. More stuff happens. And then two hours later, stuff stops happening and everyone gets to go home.
I dare say there’s an interesting movie in here, maybe one that allows us to understand the family dynamics a bit more rather than focusing on patent law and mop absorbancy, one that lets us into Joy’s determined spirit. Sadly, this mediocre effort isn’t it.
Here’s hoping everyone concerned pulls up their socks in time for next Christmas. It’s the children I feel sorry for.