“You cannot leave everything to fate… She’s got a lot to do.”
-Leonardo da Vinci (Ever After)
Jennifer Lawrence is a tour de force in our current pop culture zeitgeist, but not since Winter’s Bone has a film rested solely on her acting ability. X-Men and the Hunger Games trilogy bank a lot on Lawrence’s name and cache, but Joy relies entirely on her charisma and elite acting. David O. Russell was given the task of creating the life story of Joy Mangano. What he crafted wasn’t a normal biopic, but instead was a film that has a hint of magic and feels like a modern fairy tale.
Joy is based on the life of Joy Mangano who is like a modern day Thomas Edison. She has several inventions patented and used her charm to create an empire through the Home Shopping Network. Jennifer Lawrence was a practical choice to play such a charismatic and eccentric woman. Joy starts out by establishing the unenviable life of the title character. She lives in a dilapidated house with her entire family. Her divorced father shares the basement with her ex-husband, while her mother has a side room which she refuses to leave. The heart of the character Joy is her absolute loyalty to the people she loves.
I enjoyed American Hustle, but many critics hated it. Because our society hates seeing someone on top for too long, many of those haters have carried over to Joy. It is absolutely shocking that so many are writing off this film. Jennifer Lawrence is at her absolute best in Joy. Not since Meryl Streep have we been graced with such a natural talent. In the age of IP (intellectual property) where the studios sell franchises rather than stars, Jennifer Lawrence might be the last great movie star. Joy is a vehicle specifically designed for her acting prowess. From emotional breakdowns to her throwing on a black leather jacket and being a ruthless businesswoman, Lawrence shines in every scene.
David O. Russell has had a love/hate relationship with critics for years. Joy has not been different. Russell has a reputation as being extremely hard to work with. That is why he tends to cast the same people in all his movies. Fortunately for him, those actors include some of the best working today. Russell has a distinctive style that tends to work better within the constraints of a comedy or at the very least a dramedy. Joy isn’t humorless, but the laughs are few and far between. In a film like Silver Linings Playbook, Russell’s greatest strengths are present. In Joy, his flaws tend to be exposed. Russell isn’t a very visually creative director. The majority of his memorable shots are most likely remembered because of the magnitude of the story. But just because Joy isn’t creative visually doesn’t mean it isn’t creative.
Joy‘s script is one of my favorites this year. David O. Russell has a unique writing sense. The story of Joy is crafted as a somewhat magical journey. Russell weaves dreams and flashbacks as a way to reflect on the rags to riches story. This film draws heavily from Cinderella and similar stories. Joy’s fairy godmother is essentially her grandmother Mimi played by Diane Ladd. Mimi is given the role of the narrator, and the story is told through her voice. Joy’s glass slipper comes in the form of a mop, and the story even goes as far as having a somewhat evil half sister. What makes Joy a different film and stand extremely tall is that she doesn’t need a Prince Charming. For Joy, her prince is her success.
Joy is far from a perfect film and suffers from David O. Russell’s lackluster direction, but this is a film that elevates women in a refreshing way. Joy is a modern day Cinderella story in which our main character doesn’t need a man to fulfill her life. Jennifer Lawrence is magnificent and proves once again why she is one of the best actors in the business today. Even though Russell’s direction is subpar, his writing is extremely inventive. The story of Joy is one of perseverance and success. Joy isn’t a masterpiece, but it is an empowering movie. It is a film that every parent should show their daughter.