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Joy: Lawrence is So Good, She Can Make a Movie about a Mop Sparkle

<i>Joy</i>: Lawrence is So Good, She Can Make a Movie about a Mop Sparkle

DVD Release Date: May 3, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: December 25, 2015
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)
Genre: Drama | Biopic
Run Time: 124 min.
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Elisabeth Rohm, Susan Lucci

As evidenced in everything from The Fighter to Silver Linings Playbook to American Hustle, writer/director David O. Russell has never met a dysfunctional family he didn't like. But the Manganos, the fivesome at the center of his latest film Joy? Well, they are a particularly colorful bunch, even by Russell's standards. In a story that’s a bit all over the place but still satisfying on multiple levels despite having enough material for three separate movies, the Mangano family, particularly its young matriarch Joy (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games franchise) is, for better or worse, the glue that holds this story together.

Joy, based on a true story, is about a single mother of two who once dreamed of inventing things. Perhaps the only actual grown-up in a house packed with adults, Joy works a series of dead-end jobs while her ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez, Deliver Us From Evil), an aspiring musician, lives in the basement, and her mother (Virginia Madsen, Red Riding Hood), too afraid to actually venture outside of her bed, watches soap operas all day.

If that wasn't enough to drive Joy bonkers, her half-sister Peggy (Lawrence's American Hustle co-star Elisabeth Rohm) constantly degrades her for no other reason than simply existing, and Joy's father Rudy (Robert De Niro, The Intern), the owner of a struggling car repair shop, has recently been dumped by his current wife, leaving Joy no choice but to let him bunk up with Tony. There's so much drama with the adults, you almost forget Joy has kids to deal with too.

But somehow, Joy and her crazy family and the decrepit house that's practically another character in the movie manage to make it through each day—even with Tony and Rudy's constant bickering in the basement. Of course, an ex-son-in-law and an ex-father-in-law were never meant to live together forever, so Rudy inevitably decides it's about time to get married again and meets a wealthy widow, Trudy (veteran actress Isabella Rossellini), online.

As it turns out, Rudy meeting Trudy winds up forever changing the course of Joy's life. When Trudy invites Rudy and his family to dinner-and-drinks on her late husband's yacht, an accident with the wine glasses leads to a valuable epiphany as Joy mops up the mess. Why isn't there a mop that's absorbent, self-wringing and machine washable?

And this is where the movie makes its first major tonal shift. While Joy's family is still involved (Trudy is a reluctant investor, after all), Joy becomes more about the quest and the obstacles she faces as she tries to get her project off the ground. As it turns out, a mop that costs far more than its predecessors faces difficulty getting potential customers, but that doesn't deter her. Thankfully, QVC, a brand new channel in this timeline, comes along, and after some major persuasion, Joy is allowed to sell her mop on television. Given how things go in Joy's life, this is not the end of the story, of course, as a few opportunists now hope to get in on her action.

It's a tribute to Lawrence's talent that a story about a mop works so well. Not only does Lawrence hold her own—and shine—with a character she's a decade too young to play, she's still engaging enough, all by herself, to keep you invested. In fact, her go-to leading man Bradley Cooper (Serena) doesn't even show up until about halfway through the film, but their scenes together crackle with chemistry, and they're not even playing love interests.

Somewhere, the real Joy Mangano herself has to be proud.    

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking, cigarette smoking
  • Language/Profanity: A single f-bomb, the occasional exclamation of God’s name or use of sh--, da--, he--.
  • Sex/Nudity: None
  • Violence: None of a physical variety, other than a woman accidentally getting cut by broken wine glasses. Lots of anger and confrontation throughout.

Publication date: December 24, 2015