7 January 2016
I'm just going to come right out with it - Joy is not a good film. In fact, for the vast majority of its running time Joy is a consistently bad film, a somewhat decent story ruined by a director who clearly has no idea how to tell it. Narrated by the titular character's Grandmother (a decision made after the film had been shot, and it really shows), Joy is very loosely based on the story of Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the Miracle Mop, and follows her as she comes up with the basic idea for the mop before creating a prototype and trying to sell it.
When I say that director David O. Russell has no idea how to tell this story, I mean it. From the films opening moments it is clear that he is out of his depth, a montage of sorts showing parts of Joy's life completely failing to make any kind of an impact thanks to the rushed way in which it is presented, sudden music cues and tonal shifts making it impossible to figure out what the film wants you to feel, never mind actually feel it. Even after that, the whole first act and much of the second is just a series of "and then..." scenes, events simply happening one after another rather than leading into each other, creating a film that fails to actually tell a coherent story for much of its running time.
In many ways, Joy feels like the first draft of a script that was accidentally made into a feature-length movie. Littered with problems that should have been ironed out before filming started, it may well be one of the more poorly written films I've seen in recent years - a total lack of structure fills it with pointless scenes that add nothing to the film, and awful dialogue and weak characterisation reduce the already one-dimensional supporting cast to broad caricatures that couldn't possibly exist in the real world. This in particular is something that I really took issue with in Joy - rather than trying to make the main character likeable, Joy instead aims to make everyone else so easy to hate that you end up rooting for Joy by default, something that only just about works thanks to just how good Jennifer Lawrence is in the lead role.
I've said before that I've never been overly impressed with Jennifer Lawrence as an actress, the main reason being my inability to see her as anyone other than Jennifer Lawrence. Joy has changed my mind on that - regardless of the actual quality of the film, it is here that she gives the best performance that I've seen her give, elevating the material far beyond what it actually is even in the films worst moments. People including myself have been critical of David O. Russell's reliance on Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper but I have to admit that they are well cast here, the two of them and the two of them alone entirely responsible for the vast majority of the films very few good scenes.
And despite everything I've said up until now, Joy does contain a few scenes that really work. It's no coincidence that these are the simplest scenes in the movie - Joy comes to life whenever David O. Russell gets out the way and allows Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper to tell the story, and falls straight back into mediocrity or worse whenever he inserts himself back into the proceedings. I'm not sure if it is fair to say that David O. Russell is a bad director (the consistent critical acclaim he has seen up until now is a fairly strong argument that he isn't), but his blatant inability to make a good film out of Joy should certainly be raising some eyebrows, especially given the elementary mistakes on display.
Too egotistical to play as a straight biopic but too bland and mindless to be anything else, Joy is ultimately little more than a gigantic misfire, the clearly brilliant performances given by Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper lost amongst a messy, badly directed film that wastes the few good scenes it contains. Joy would have been significantly better as a one-off, hour long TV drama, and I don't mean that as an insult to the story itself, something which genuinely could have been interesting given the right circumstances. But these, I'm afraid to say, are not those circumstances, and Joy is simply a film that fails to live up to the potential that it shows at times.