Nobody can ever say that Jennifer Lawrence can’t carry a film. In fact, in JOY, she’s the biggest saving grace and the main draw, both at once. Even a film with a supporting ensemble cast with name after name such as this, feels solely rested on her shoulders.
JOY is a telling of the real-life story of Joy Mangano, the inventor and businesswoman responsible for such household products as the Miracle Mop, Huggable Hangers, and many others. After being emotionally and physically dragged down by everyone around her, particularly her family and ex-husband, she rose from her circumstances to become president of her own company and a regular face on the HSN.
This is the third time around for Lawrence teaming up with director David O. Russell, after the Best Picture nominees Silver Linings Playbook (for which Lawrence of course won an Oscar), and American Hustle (for which she was nominated again, this time in the supporting category). Some other players make returns as well, including Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, both of whom were previously nominated as well for their time spent with O. Russell. The cast is rounded out by a gaggle of talented actors, including Edgar Ramirez as Joy’s ex-husband Tony, Diane Ladd and Virginia Madsen as Joy’s Grandma and Mother, respectively, as well as Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco and Elisabeth Rohm. A nice little nod goes out to Susan Lucci and Laura Wright playing up their soap opera careers in cameo roles as well.
Still, with all the talent on screen, the film comes across as slightly cold and uninviting. This is strictly story based and in no way involving the design elements. The Art Directors Guild gave JOY a nod earlier today, and you can certainly see why. The art direction and costume work are on point in the most realistic of ways. We’re watching an authentic, lived-in world, but at no point does it feel old or dated. We are magnetically drawn to Lawrence every moment she is on screen, but her “support system”, if you could ever call it that, is so demanding of her, so unnecessary cruel at times, that it slightly takes you out of the narrative. Especially in the down times of the story, the lack of compassion, understanding, or any remote form of expressed love between the family is tough to swallow. It’s as if they’re waiting and hoping for her to fail, simply so they can kick her when she’s down, even if they don't realize that's what they're doing.
While JOY has been grouped into the comedy genre, it’s definitely on the far-dark end of that scale. The few actual laughs bring a welcome reprieve at times when they are desperately needed, but they are too few and far between. Lawrence is one of the horses in the race for another Best Actress nomination this year, and I won’t be surprised if it happens. Her performance, as well as Cooper’s, who enters the film just when it desperately needs a injection of energy, elevate the film enough that for me to say that it’s still worth a viewing, but it’s not one that I’ll be rushing out to see again.