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David O’Russell gathers his team again for another film with his star Jennifer Lawrence at the helm. A role she takes on quite well and perhaps shows that as iconic as she is slowly becoming with her antics off the set, perhaps she isn’t like her contemporaries and the big stars of yore. As for what I mean by that, look below.
Characters & Story (with Commentary)
It’s the 90s and Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) has always been so close to her dreams, and then her family got in the way. She was valedictorian of her school, was off to college, and then her parents, Rudy (Robert De Niro) and Terry (Virginia Madsen), got into a nasty divorce and she decided to come home. Which is a running theme by the way. For outside of Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) it seems Joy’s family has always been a ball and chain. Her mother, I guess because she grew up in the housewife age, seemed to develop some sort of disorder in which leaving her bed became something only done for the bathroom, and all the rest of her time was dedicated to soap operas. As for her dad? Well, he continued running his shop, and seemingly mooching, to a point, off of any woman who would have him until she kicks him out. All the while, Joy made sure not only the bills were paid, and there was food on the table, but she was also the house handyman in terms of fixing pipes, among other things.
In total, for 17 years Joy took care of her family, and on that 17th year, after a failed marriage, two kids born, and all her relatives’ chaos, she decided it is time for her, and them, to support Joy. Leading to her revisiting the person she once was, an inventor, and coming up with a self-wringing mop. An idea which, physically, goes from page to product, but then comes dealing with her family, who start off helpful, but quickly become balls and chains, and then comes trying to sell the things. Of which the majority of the story deals with.
A long time ago, likely in the sole Hunger Games review I did, I noted how Jennifer Lawrence has a varied filmography which is quite refreshing in an actor. Be it because it doesn’t allow you to pigeonhole her, or because, be it with O’Russell or others, we are allowed to see a vast group of people she is capable of taking on. Which, as alluded to in the overview, is what makes her different from everyone else. She can go from someone who quietly suffers to someone completely erratic, to someone like Joy who can do anything and everything, even without much support, and yet also be a girl who seemingly just wants to fall in love. I mean, I’ll probably criticize her when it comes to clunkers (like what I assume Serena is – I’m not touching that film), but it is hard to not become a fan of an actress who shows she is in it for the craft and to entertain you.
During a time when most would-be Oscar bait films deal with a woman falling in love, out of love, or something dealing with romance, it is nice that Joy’s life has not a single bit to do with that. Yes, her ex-husband is part of her life, but there is no “will they get back together?” or her dating, or even too much time spent on how they got together. It is just shown as they were once together, it didn’t work out, they were good friends, so they downgraded their relationship.
Despite her role not being large, at all, I was so happy for Dascha Polanco (who plays Joy’s best friend since childhood Jackie) got to play a part in this movie. For while she is just the best friend, who just jumps in when Joy needs her, considering how pale this film mostly is, she was a welcomed piece to the puzzle. Almost making you wonder, no shade, if she was brought on for diversity, recognition from Orange is the New Black, or due to her legitimate talent?
There isn’t enough time, or simply dedication, to the supporting stars. One key example is Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), Joy’s half-sister who she grew up with. For as much as one could argue the guys in California and Texas are the would-be villains, in both cases, those people only have one scene. Peggy, on the other hand, is a constant pessimistic force which tries to belittle and put down Joy more than anyone, combined. Yet it is hard to say what drives her to act this way. Attention? Perhaps, but it is never said. Jealousy? Could be for Joy does try to help Peggy get her own products off the ground, and when she fails she goes after Joy but, even with these few examples, there is no real getting to know Peggy. Like everyone else, she is shallow and either stands as Jackie, Neil (Bradley Cooper), who provides Joy her first big platform to sell her mop and Tony (Edgar Ramirez), Joy’s ex-husband, did; somewhere teeter tottering in the middle, like Rudy, who was all for it until there was too much hassle; or on the polar end against her, like Peggy, who seemingly liked things better when Joy was bending over backwards, even if that still meant she, Peggy that is, still wasn’t given the attention she seemingly thinks she deserves.
On The Fence
Recognizing Joy’s story from her designing the mop to becoming a millionaire had its obstacles, I must say there felt like a lack of serious obstacles. Which, to me, took away from Joy being an empowering woman if only because she sort-of was portrayed as a Rambo type. Someone who, no matter what the adversity, wasn’t going to be defeated. Which I won’t say is a bad thing, showing how initiative and willpower can get you through damn near anything, but for a movie which is just based off someone’s life, and not exact to the T, you think the creative liberty taken would have made for a bit more drama. For, let me just say, the folks she faces off with in Texas and California, the would-be villains, ain’t nothing about them seem formidable.
While Joy is given a crash course on business, I do feel like sometimes, even with bankruptcy looming and financial ruin, she was still too green. I mean, while we are told she did the books for her father and has that bootstraps attitude, her story is so ideal that even as Lawrence pulls a Meryl Steep and makes a side eye worthy story something you can get into, things seem to lack logic. I mean, getting into some detail, how lucky is it that her father ended up, through a phone dating service, with a woman with money? Then, on top of that, the woman was willing to loan hundreds of thousands of dollars? This is on top of the other coincidences I could go into, but even with the spoiler warning, and my history of just laying everything out there, I want to hold back from telling you all the coincidental nonsense.
Final Thought(s): TV Viewing
To be honest, based off the trailer I was not at all planning to see this. American Hustle was alright, but David O’Russell turning Lawrence into his muse I was a bit uneasy with. Not because he doesn’t know how to utilize her, that isn’t the problem, but I was just unsure if whether or not she was to become his Johnny Depp, to his Tim Burton, or if their combination was based solely because she lit his career on fire. Now, as for my thoughts post seeing the movie, let me say this, Lawrence in this film is on the same level as Meryl Steep in The Iron Lady. Is the film itself that good? Not really. Yet the star, in this case Lawrence, makes it tolerable enough to stay interested from start to end. Leading the film to only seem less than stellar after it is done and you are really thinking about what you just watched. Hence the TV Viewing label for while many of O’Russell’s favorite are here, like De Niro and Bradley Cooper, they aren’t giving the type of characters you strongly remember and everything rests on Lawrence’s shoulder. Something she handles well, but not to the point she can compensate for all the various falters of the film as a whole.
Things To Note
For those wanting some Fact vs. Fiction details about how the movie pairs up to the life of the real Joy, check out this TIME article.