Film Review: Joy (USA, 2015)

If we keep Accidental Love out of the conversation (and he’d wish everyone would), David O. Russell has had an incredible few years. A man who struggled to get films made for almost a decade (following the successful Three Kings in 1999, his only release until The Fighter in 2010 was the underrated I Heart Huckabees in 2004) has released four critically acclaimed films, three of which feature Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in key roles. Talk about finding your muses…

The latest of these collaborations is Joy, which hits Australian cinemas this Boxing Day. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as the titular character, a single mother who always dreamed for something more for herself. When life doesn’t quite pan out for her the way she had hoped, she puts up with it, becoming the family matriarch among four living generations, having to look after her parents, her grandma, children and even her ex-Husband, who lives in the basement. But then one day she wakes up and has had enough – and with this family, especially her God awful step sister, you only wonder why she hasn’t snapped sooner.

After a lengthy introduction to her family and her less than glamourous life, we follow Joy as she fights her often hopeless family to make something of herself – in the first instance inventing a new type of mop, and using Bradley Cooper’s shopping network to sell it. Though the trailer seems to show off a powerful woman, who ditches her family to find success, disappointingly she latches on to her family for most of the film. Or rather, they latch on to her. It’s only in the film’s final, rather rushed minutes that we see her lay the hammer down and sort things out for herself. Given the amount of bad advice and shit circumstances her family put her in, the film’s only crime is that they didn’t have her do this earlier. Sure, it makes for a more powerful moment later in the film, but the same could have been achieved earlier, giving more time for the film’s final act.

Though the film drags unnecessarily in the middle, trudging us through some pretty painful scenes, it’s hard to fault Russell’s work otherwise. The film is beautifully shot by Cinematographer Linus Sandgren and the score by David Campbell and West Dylan Thordson is compelling. The detail in every scene is stunning.

Lawrence is phenomenal in the role – this is very much her film – but the entire cast shine. Cooper and Lawrence continue their great on screen chemistry, and though aren’t love interests, are a team you can’t help but root for. De Niro and Virginia Madsen are excellent as Joy’s parents, with Madsen stealing most of the scenes she’s in thanks to her highly enjoyable Soap addiction – a feature which humorously opens the film, and stars actual Soap actors (including the one and only Susan Lucci) in the film’s make believe soap opera. The irony of course being that if Madsen just looked around her for a moment, she would see that the life she’s surrounded by is full of more than enough drama to keep anyone sustained for a lifetime.

“Inspired by true stories of powerful women and one in particular”, as the opening card says, it’s a pity that we have to sit through so much family drama and bickering to get to the point where the powerful woman truly emerges. But filled with great performances and excellent production, it’s a enjoyable film all the same. The only question now is: What will Cooper, Lawrence and Russell do next?

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Joy is in cinemas from Boxing Day.