“Joy” (2015) - “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” - Leonardo da Vinci
For Joy (Jennifer Lawrence), a struggling working mom, she let life happen to her. Years ago, she skipped college in order to stay home and help her dysfunctional parents (Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen) work through their divorce. Now she is stressed out at work with a thankless job at Eastern Airlines, and her life is even more frazzled at home. In addition to raising two young children, her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) lives in the basement, her mom (Madsen) coops herself up in a bedroom all day and – most recently - her father (De Niro) needs a place to live and moves into the basement as well. Other than her grandmother (Diane Ladd) providing emotional support, Joy is the only responsible adult in her family and the center of their universe.
In writer/director David O. Russell’s latest creation, he penned and guided a very entertaining picture with many unlikely turns on a trip for the film’s hero, Joy. Russell creates a chaotic, but also very funny, set of surroundings in Joy’s home, and the madness is a delightful mess to behold for the viewer. All families own their own craziness, but in so many cases, “sane” family members simply continue to mire themselves through the daily drudgery, because making change is too difficult. Joy takes the rare step of attempting to take control of her life.
A high school valedictorian, Joy has always been creative, and just after spilling red wine on a fancy boat, she conjures up an idea for an ingenious product. The film then takes us on Joy’s journey to bring her invention to market. Although she would be much better off on her own, she does require some help from her irrational family members.
“Joy” is based upon a real-life person, Joy Mangano, and Lawrence and the entire cast do feel like real human beings. At the same time, the script feels too implausible to be believed, but because we are so anchored with these individuals, we take Joy’s twisting journey at face value and trust all of it. That is a sound recipe for intriguing cinema.
The respected ensemble cast also includes Isabella Rossellini and Bradley Cooper, and they play key supporting functions to the story, but despite the rich dialogue and interesting people running in and out of the screen, this is Lawrence’s movie. She owns Joy and manages shades of doubt, vulnerability, brilliance, ingenuity, and strength. Her performance during Joy’s long, strange trip completely grabs our attention. As an example, when the people closest to her say that she is not capable of great things and just an average mom, Joy will grab a gun at a piecemeal target range and fire with the will of a U.S. Marine on the front lines.
Joy is a fascinating film about empowerment and attempting to stake one’s claim in this world, no matter where one originally starts. It should also not be lost on anyone that Joy is an inspiring role model for women. Joy not only stopped sitting back and letting things happen to her, she was not waiting for her prince to come either. Even in 2015, that is a wonderful reminder for us all. (3.5/4 stars)