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Joy Movie Review

Joy: Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art
Joy is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + Digital HD release.

Joy (2015) movie poster Joy

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2015 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: David O. Russell / Writers: David O. Russell (story & screenplay); Annie Mumolo (story)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Robert De Niro (Rudy), Bradley Cooper (Neil Walker), Edgar Ramirez (Tony), Diane Ladd (Mimi), Virginia Madsen (Terry), Isabella Rosellini (Trudy), Dascha Polanco (Jackie), Elisabeth Rhm (Peggy), Susan Lucci (Danica), Laura Wright (Clarinda), Maurice Bernard (Ridge), Donna Mills (Priscilla), Jimmy Jean-Louis (Touissant), Ken Howard (Mop Executive), Ray De La Paz (Tony's Father), John Enos (Roderick), Marianne Leone (Sharon), Melissa Rivers (Joan Rivers), Drena De Niro (Cindy), Isabella Crovetti-Cramp (Young Joy), Emily Nez (Young Jackie), Madison Wolfe (Young Peggy), Aundrea Gadsby (Cristy - 5 years old), Gia Gadsby (Christy - 5 years old), Tomas Denson Elizondo (Tommy - 3 years old), Zeke Louis Elizondo (Tommy - 3 years old)

Buy Joy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD Instant Video

As far as I'm concerned, David O. Russell's winning streak remains intact and stands unrivaled by any other filmmaker who isn't employed by Pixar. You can refer me to Accidental Love,
a romantic comedy shot in 2008, finished without Russell, and released earlier this year. But even if you acknowledge the credited Stephen Greene as the director's pseudonym, you're still talking about work conducted prior to Russell's renaissance.

That renaissance began with 2010's The Fighter and continued with 2012's Silver Linings Playbook and 2013's American Hustle. All three drew Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and for Russell as Best Director (in addition to Screenplay nods, the latter two of which he shared). They also earned eleven nominations in the Oscars' four acting categories, three of which resulted in wins. Oh, and as if those accolades and the critical acclaim they reflected were not enough, all three of those movies also turned a big profit at the box office, from $129 million to $250 million worldwide on budgets of just $21 M to $40 M apiece.

Russell, who has somehow emerged from this period of flourishment without an Oscar of his own, continues to rely on a unique creative process and to collaborate with actors he has brought acknowledgment and raves. No amount of embarrassing reports, personal scandal and publicized controversy can detract from the fact that Russell has been making great cinema every year or two since The Fighter restored the luster to a career built on promising indies.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as the title character in "Joy", seen here standing beneath a fake snow machine in Dallas.

Russell's latest is Joy and you don't have to be an annoying IMDb message board user to notice right away that the filmmaker is standing by his trusted troupe with whom he's succeeded. This time, Jennifer Lawrence, who won Best Actress for Silver Linings and was likely runner-up in Supporting Actress for Hustle, gets to be solo lead. That is, of course, nothing new for her, the current biggest movie star in the world. But it's a change of pace for Russell, whose success has been marked by spectacular ensembles.

Lawrence plays the titular character, the "one in particular" of the "daring women" who the film's opening texts acknowledge as inspiration. Though originally announced as a straight biopic of inventor Joy Mangano, Joy has evolved slightly from that to allow Russell (who shares story credit with Bridesmaids' Annie Mumolo but alone is credited with screenplay) some creative license. Still, though her surname is never uttered, the movie is clearly based on the life of Mangano, who numbers among the film's producers.

Narrated by Joy's beloved Mimi (Diane Ladd), whose belief in her granddaughter never wavers, the film opens with Joy a child (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp), playing carefree outside the auto shop of her father Rudy (Robert De Niro) in the unspecified past. Joy soon grows up and becomes Lawrence, a 20-something mother of two young children with an ex-husband living in her basement. The short, failed marriage to Tony (dgar Ramrez), a Venezuelan with ambitions to become the next Tom Jones, is briefly detailed. He remains present as a friend and advisor to Joy, who has worked all sorts of jobs since staying at home to be close to her divorcing parents instead of going away to college.

QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) drops in to see Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) at her father's workplace Christmas party.

Rudy is dropped off by his third wife to live with Joy and he gets assigned half of the basement (a line of toilet paper divides his portion from Tony's). The modest abode also houses his second ex-wife, Joy's mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), whose obsession with watching soap operas in bed knows no bounds. The house is falling apart and Joy is the only one trying to keep it together.

She thinks she might be better equipped to do that if her latest idea pays off. It is a self-wringing, highly absorbent mop, soon to be known the world over as the Miracle Mop.
Joy is convinced it's a solid idea and she makes sure to patent this one, unlike the fluorescent flea collar she conceived as a child. She pitches the idea to Rudy's new girlfriend, wealthy Italian widow Trudy (Isabella Rosselini), who subjects her to questioning to ensure the business model is well-founded.

The movie follows through on Joy's multi-million dollar idea, which at first glance looks anything but certain. She overcomes a shaky start to impress the head of the burgeoning home shopping network QVC (a brief but effective Bradley Cooper), who watches the ticker announce thousands of product sales in mere minutes like a maestro of business. There is some contention regarding manufacturing and the business looks doomed when Joy has to take out a second mortgage. But people don't make movies about failures and Joy's story, as you can tell, is an uplifting one.

Joy and her large family gather and anxiously watch as her invention is pitched for the first time on QVC.

Though beneficially classified as a Comedy or Musical by the Golden Globes like Russell's two previous films, Joy is not as consistently funny as those and even the drama-classified The Fighter. There's an atmosphere of diversion, which we've now come to expect from Russell. The chaotic family scenes amuse and recall those of Silver Linings, although with the possible exception of Terry, no one here seems mentally ill. While interesting characters abound (per usual for Russell), the show truly and fully belongs to Lawrence,
who has done a miraculous job of using her tentpole-fueled stardom exclusively for good. It was five years ago that Lawrence first turned up on Hollywood's radars for the tiny little indie drama Winter's Bone. That Oscar-nominated performance paved the way for Mystique and Katniss Everdeen, but Lawrence has decidedly classed up those highly respectable mainstream vehicles, being a young leading lady like no other before her. Her collaborations with Russell rank among her finest work and Joy continues that admirable trend. While this will most likely break the director's streak of multiple acting Oscar nominees, Lawrence is almost certain to get a nomination, which would astonishingly be her fourth and she's only 25. If she hadn't already won one (and hadn't won the one she lost because she already won), she'd be the runaway frontrunner too.

Joy is not as focused and arresting as Russell's three previous hits, but it still makes for a substantial and entertaining experience. The director's signature is easily noticed, from his increasingly nimble camerawork to a soundtrack that is heavy on fitting period tunes. There is humor, there is rich characterization, and there is commendable acting from veterans and up-and-comers who won't find better opportunities anywhere else in Hollywood. You expect doors to be opened, at least for the young and attractive Ramirez and Elisabeth Rhm, who seizes a bigger role than she had in Hustle as Joy's contentious half-sister Peggy.

Russell has been so widely celebrated for his recent work that some contrarian backlash is virtually inevitable. You see it all the time on the Internet from people who are so hip that they lament the Russell who made Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees. Joy may not be as strong as the filmmaker's three consecutive Best Picture contenders, but it is still a very strong film and one that tells a woman's story with nary a concern for romance. Many will compare it to Erin Brockovich, and the fact that there isn't a more recent film than that 2000 Julia Roberts Oscar winner illustrates that women are too often marginalized in film as the love interest and the thankless secondary figure.

You don't have to care about women's representations in film to want to see Joy. All you need to do is have a taste for good movies driven by story, characters, great acting, and first-rate direction.

Buy Joy from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by David O. Russell: Silver Linings Playbook American Hustle The Fighter Accidental Love
Now in Theaters: The Revenant The Big Short The Hateful Eight Anomalisa The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2
Jennifer Lawrence: Winter's Bone The Beaver | Bradley Cooper: American Sniper The Hangover
Big Eyes Julie & Julia August: Osage County

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Reviewed December 25, 2015.

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