'Joy': EW review
David O. Russell’s films are filled with seekers and strivers and lovable misfits—American hustlers working hard to carve out their own oddball corner of the dream. Even for them though, a movie about a mop might feel a little quixotic.
Working once again with muse Jennifer Lawrence, Russell aims to adapt the real-life tale of Joy Mangano, a plucky but overwhelmed single mother whose falling-down house can barely contain her dysfunctional family. Her curdled Casanova of a father (Robert DeNiro) grudgingly shares the basement with her unemployed ex (Edgar Ramirez), while her catatonic mother (Virginia Madsen) loses herself in daytime soaps and her hostile half-sister (Elisabeth Rohm) seethes in various corners. But Joy has ideas, you see; she’s always been a smart girl, and a messy incident on the sailboat belonging to her father’s latest paramour leads to a Eureka moment: A highly absorbent, hands-free Miracle Mop designed to liberate housewives like her from linoleum drudgery. Cue the rocky but triumphant climb from double-mortgage penury to TV stardom on the then-nascent QVC. (That’s where Bradley Cooper fairly uselessly comes in.)
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. C–