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Joy Offers Little to Cheer About

Joy Offers Little to Cheer About

          Joy is an
odd duck of a movie. It comes with impeccable credentials, yet when it’s over
you’re left wondering why filmmaker David O. Russell thought this material was
worthy of a feature film. It’s not that the story of Joy Mangano (never named, although she is
credited as one of the executive producers) isn’t dramatic or unpredictable.
But while it is crammed with incident and unusual characters, it doesn’t offer
larger lessons or truths beyond platitudes: believe in yourself, don’t be
easily discouraged, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

          Jennifer
Lawrence brings her considerable star quality to the central role of a woman
who’s struggling to get by, raising kids with no help or money to spare, an
ex-husband who won’t move out of her basement, an agoraphobic mother who
watches soap operas all day, a jealous stepsister, and a father whose love and
support bend with the wind.

          Then one day
she comes upon an idea and puts herself forward as an entrepreneur. In most
movies, this would be the pathway to a happy ending, but Joy still has many
detours ahead for its plucky protagonist—and us in the audience.

          It’s the
high-caliber cast that keeps us watching: Lawrence is supported by Robert De
Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen, Elisabeth Rohm, and Isabella Rossellini.
Their lives have no purpose, and their quirks and peccadilloes chip away at
Joy’s sanity on a daily basis. Living with them is such a trial that somehow
her ultimate success isn’t as satisfying as it ought to be. We’re just glad she
survived at all. Bradley Cooper shines in a small but significant role, and
Melissa Rivers contributes an amusing cameo as her late mother Joan.

          Joy is never boring, but its
meandering nature leaves us feeling curiously unmoved. In his determination to
be unconventional, David O. Russell has jettisoned some of the building blocks
that make a biopic work.

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