By Thomas Simpson
Director David O. Russell returns with a familiar cast for Joy, a slightly surreal story loosely based on the inventor of the Miracle Mop. Far from a straight biopic, O. Russell recounts elements of the real Joy Mangano’s life (played here by Jennifer Lawrence) with fictional elements to portray a successful and highly inspirational woman.
Joy is a divorced mother who on top of looking after her own children has to care for virtually every other member of her family. Her mother, Terri (Virginia Madsen), is reclusive and bedbound by choice, choosing to escape into the fantasy world of soap operas. Joy has no such escape as she’s forced to confront the realities of her everyday struggles including her old romantic of a dad (Robert De Niro) and her ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) who both live in her basement. When she invents the Miracle Mop she sees big changes in her future, however she soon learns that it is difficult to escape the confines of her negative surroundings.
O. Russell sprinkles a lightness over the film that allows us to be sucked in early. Even though it’s difficult to like most of Joy’s family, there are many laughs to be had even if it’s at Joy’s expense. The titular character is strong and resourceful, amplified by a captivating performance by Lawrence. We feel every bump in the road and root for her the entire way. This is a character we want to see succeed, who we feel should win and it’s distressing to see her falter as obstacles are put in her way.
Despite the airy tone of the first act, the mood gradually changes around the midpoint. You can feel the whole film change pace as the atmosphere injected in the script begins to darken. It provides some uncomfortable viewing but it serves to solidify our investment in Joy.
With a wonderful supporting cast of Robert De Niro, Isabella Rossellini, Dianne Ladd and Bradley Cooper, Joy has a great depth of talent with no one getting lost in the shuffle as the cast click into place. It’s worth mentioning Ramirez and Dascha Polanco (Joy’s best friend Jackie) for helping to create two of the more likable characters, something the film lacks beyond the lead.
Although liberties have been taken with the facts this doesn’t impact on the story which succeeds in evoking the right emotions at the appropriate time. O. Russell has crafted an exhilarating tale that even if not historically accurate, the overall message is undeniably strong and one that will resonate with audiences.