Director: David O. Russell
Joy follows, well a lot of things but mainly the invention and marketing and buisseness story of the miracle mop. It is quite loosely based on the story it seems, but we find Joy, played by Jennifer Lawrence, (The Hunger Games) living in a very complicated domestic system, which we will get on to; everything is really a bit fucked and very soon the mop appears to become her only way out of a system that has beaten her underfoot. The film has no idea what it wants it’s message to be, has no tonal consistancy, and is absolutely ludicrous, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t very entertaining, and not always in an ironic way.
Right, cards on table time, I’ve never seen a David O’ Russel, (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) film before. I have heard a lot about him though, I have heard a lot about his films and a lot about him as a person. I don’t wish to unintentionally slander so I will say that I only think he admitted to the quite reprehensible things he’s accused of doing; and if he did it, then he should really be in prison and banned from making films. It’s really the Woody Allen, (Annie Hall, Manhattan) or Roman Polanski effect. I should however, as should any critic, be able to seperate the artist from his work, just because I don’t particularly want to watch any of the films from this trifecta of degenerate filmmakers, doesn’t mean that when I do watch them I can’t enjoy them. The fact that I really don’t like Rosemary’s Baby very much has very little to do with my opinions of Roman Polanski, as does the fact that I really quite like Chinatown, quite a lot. It has to be said that when this film got sniffy reviews and someone finished Accidental Love for Russel and released it to critical derision, I was more than a little bit smug. Then again I’m a little bit smug most of the time so does this really mean anything? So with all this said, what’s actually to be said about the film?
It has been well known that the more David O. Russel makes films and the more he settles into his style, the more he rides the line between comedy and drama. His films at the Golden Globes have in the past been put into the comedy catagory even though I think they’re probably dramas. It is clear that Russel is very influenced by television melodramas and heavily took that influence for this story, the film actually starts with a sample of a melodrama being watched before the opening sequence plays out not disimilarly to a melodrama, or television soap opera. At the same time, especially in the first half it veers dengerously away from this and back again and there and back. The first act plays out almost like, either All About My Mother as directed by Darren Aronofsky or Requiem for a Dream as directed by Pedro Almodovar and it tries to do things that both of those films and their respective directors do in their films but the two styles and attitudes and worldviews are so drastically different that it never, at least for the first half, quite settles down, and there are jokes, but a lot of the time I was laughing at things that were probably not meant to be in the comedy portion of the film. That being said; an equal amount of my laughs, of which there were at least 6 so it passes the 6 laugh test, were genuine. Not least of all because of Robert De Niro, (Goodfellas, The Godfather: Part II), who reminds you in this film that despite Dirty Grandpa, when he cares about a project and a role, very few people can touch him. It’s interesting that he’s taking influence from the two aformentioned types of movies because they both aspire to a kind of detatched realism, but in such different ways. I would also point out a textural hint of maybe some of the family scenes from Goodfellas, but maybe that’s just the Italian-American accents and the presence of Robert De Niro.
Speaking of the actors, Jeniffer Lawrence is much more, full on, in this than I have seen her before but once again I find her to just be completely adaquate. Can we maybe give a role to Samantha Morton, (Control, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) or Jemma Arterton, (The Girl with All the Gifts, Byzantium) please? Can ordinary women who just happen to be incredible actresses get all the big roles please? I’m desperately worried that when Helen Mirren, (The Queen) dies we won’t get anyone to fill her shoes. Bardley Cooper, (Silver Linings Playbook, Guardians of the Galaxy, American Sniper) isn’t in this film a whole lot, and, I’m not a huge Bradley Cooper fan but he is great in this, really electric. Whenever he’s on screen he is so charismatic he fills the screen. I wanted more of him, because in the end Joy isn’t actually that interesting as a character, or maybe that’s just Jennifer Lawrence.
One of the real unexpected joys though is Edgar Ramirez, (The Bourne Ultimatum) as Joy’s ex husband, their relationship isn’t normal but it’s sold very well for the most part down to his performance. Joy’s half sister hardly gets a look in or a word, and could have given the first half maybe an electric presence it needed, and maybe that the rest of the film needed, but her character is much neglected.
There is a more fundamental problem to this film though. It pitches itself as an Almodovar style melodrama, it suberts the genre in exactly the same ways, has many of the same character beats and many scenes that could have been lifted right out of All About My Mother. All About My Mother also has a serious point about the place of women in society and what it means to be a women in modern society, as does Joy. Almodover handles it so well, it’s subtle, and understated but somehow gives life and joy to every character and frame of that film, in Joy the tone is so wonderously off kilter and the moments that Woody Allen would subtitles ‘author’s message’ are so horribly random and on the nose, that it, if anything comes across as patronising, mansplaining, and really rich coming from a man with the history that David O. Russel has. It also takes you out of the moment and really could be handled better. The film also doesn’t quite know what it wants the emotional motivation of the main character to be. It keeps coming back to how Joy is contained within her life and curcumstance, she is trapped within a man’s system created around her, she is constantly butting against the system in how she dresses, how she sells, he goals and her motivations, but at the point in the film that represents her character arc being completed, she could not be more in the system, and anti everything she stood for beyond ‘strong female figure’. The movie just entirely, gets it wrong.
Nonetheless, at said moment, I did feel a little bit of pride despite some sloppy filmmaking. Towards the second half, especially in the third act, which seems a bit rushed for my liking, the film settles down, gets some idea of what it’s aiming for, and I began to feel sympathy for the characters, or at least understand them better as people. I felt for Joy at her low moments, laughed when I was meant to, and enjoyed the myriad of entertaining performances. That doesnt’ change the fact that you’re constantly distracted by the fact you’re watching a film about a mop, but it’s very entertaining. Watching Joy, I was confused, amused, and befuddled, but I was never, never, never, bored.
I might, I might, that’s not ‘will’, might, actually get it on DVD. If it’s really cheap.