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Joy reviews: Jennifer Lawrence, David O. Russell team-up not a critical darling

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20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection

Third time’s the charm, right? Following Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence and director David O. Russell teamed up once again for Joy, based in part on the story of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano. With Lawrence as another “Girl of Fire,” of sorts, the film tracks a woman from struggling working mom to business legend as she struggles with her family and work life, specifically her hot-and-cold father, her soap opera-obsessed mother, her sabotaging sister, and her ex-husband/best friend. 

The script began with Annie Mumolo, who shares a story credit with Russell. According to reports, when the director came on, he stitched together Joy and his supporting characters with elements from other stories of “daring women.” All the materials are here for a dynamic film — a talented cast with a handful of Russell veterans (including Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper), an Oscar-winning “it girl” in the leading role, awards caliber behind-the-scenes talent, and a rags-to-riches story. According to EW’s Leah Greenblatt, “Even for them though, a movie about a mop might feel a little quixotic.”    

Despite criticisms of the actress’ age vs. the role, it seems as though Lawrence can (still) do no wrong, and critics are still fanning the flames from her roaring screen presence. That doesn’t mean the film itself is one for the ages. Greenblatt points out the competitive cinematic space that is Christmas season, and this year is filled with more eye-grabbing titles like the long-awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens and even Quentin Tarantino’s bloody new Western The Hateful Eight. Joy is not without its faults but, when you compare the critical reception to what’s on the market, it doesn’t seem like a fair fight. 

Read more from Greenblatt’s EW review below, in addition to other critical receptions.  

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Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly

“If only Russell trusted Mangano’s true story. Instead, he’s turned her life into a over-staged mess of awkward exposition, contrived dialogue, and characters so willfully unreal they feel acrylic. Lawrence is, once again, ridiculously young for the role (Mangano was nearly a decade older at the time) but also much better and more natural than the noteless part she’s forced to play. She can’t save a turkey though; in a season rich with cinematic options — Star Wars, Sisters, The Revenant — this is not the joy you’re looking for.”

A. O. Scott (The New York Times

“It can be argued that Ms. Lawrence is miscast, that she’s too young, too glamorous, insufficiently dented by life’s hard knocks. It can also be argued: So what? Joy’s Cinderella qualities suit her perfectly, and she has the rare ability to combine radiance with realism. Like some of the great screen goddesses of old — for some reason, Lauren Bacall seems like the best point of comparison — she seems at once impossibly magnetic and completely down to earth, regal and democratic, ordinary and perfect.”

Mark Jenkins (NPR

“One of the many things Joy never makes clear is exactly what the writer-director finds interesting about his protagonist, who isn’t identified as Mangano. The movie lurches from event to event, and tone to tone, without articulating a reason to exist.”

Moira Mcdonald (The Seattle Times

“Lawrence, as always, throws herself into the role like a kid diving into a swimming hole, and her wide-open, determined vibrancy almost makes you forget that she’s too young for it. Her charm almost distracts, but not quite, from a significant problem in the script: The film’s all lead-up and no follow-through.”

Kenneth Turan (The Los Angeles Times

“Despite some quite engaging sections, Joy is, unlike previous Russell films, dragged down more than it is inspired by its chaotic ambience, a film whose variations in tone can’t be overcome. If Joy‘s theme is how much courage and tenacity it took for its heroine to climb out of a toxic personal situation, it unfortunately starts off on the wrong foot with uninvolving depictions of her woeful background that last way too long.”

Michael O’Sullivan (The Washington Post

“True to form, the film is filled with great, over-ripe performances, particularly from Isabella Rossellini, who plays the supremely self-confident, well-to-do girlfriend of Joy’s father, and one of Joy’s early financial backers. But a quirky supporting cast and a modern-day Horatio Alger story aren’t enough.”

Justin Chang (Variety

“Despite another solid performance from Jennifer Lawrence, anchoring Russell’s sincerely felt tribute to the power of a woman’s resolve in a man’s world, it’s hard not to wish Joy were better — that its various winsome parts added up to more than a flyweight product that still feels stuck in the development stage.”

Mick LaSalle (The San Francisco Chronicle

“In a completely fact-based movie, a director’s willingness to go easy on the characters might be understandable — real people can be hurt, after all. But Joy is a fiction that shows a family of bloodsuckers without judgment, as though they were fun, lovable characters. It’s enough to make viewers wonder. Is Russell simply miscalculating, botching the tone of his film by assuming his characters are engaging when they are not? Or is this a conscious experiment in comedy, an attempt to see how funny it might be to throw contemptible characters into a frustrating story in which there’s nothing to laugh at?”

Peter Howell (Toronto Star

Joy is a fun but untidy muddle, a mess that even the self-wringing mop of its central metaphor can’t easily clean up. It’s loaded with great characters and moments and it makes canny use of pop songs, as David O. Russell movies usually do, but it all doesn’t add up to much. Reports that Russell struggled in the editing room to “find” his picture are entirely believable.”

Dana Stevens (Slate

Joy contains moments of delight, humor, inspiration, and heartbreak — many of its individual scenes, cut loose of their context, could stand alone as successful mini-movies. But Russell’s method of barely controlled chaos — his tendency to keep subplots boiling on multiple burners as he rushes from one seriocomic setup to the next — doesn’t serve the final product well in this case.”

 

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 55

Rotten Tomatoes: 58 percent

Rated: PG-13

Length: 124 minutes

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Bradley Cooper, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen

Directed by David O. Russell

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

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