Hard-headed and steadfastly committed to the same group of actors who helped him make 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook such a success (most specifically, Jennifer Lawrence), writer/director David O. Russell has, with some variation of the same ensemble, released two more comedies (dramedies?) — his latest being Joy, the story of Joy Mangano’s rise to fame by way of the miracle mop.
Joy‘s ensemble, more so than SLP and the following year’s American Hustle, is an out of control mess that would have been better reined in. Instead, it makes a lot of noise without really taking us anywhere. On the other hand, it seems like it’s the nature of the beast — the beast being Joy’s family, a divided group of opinionated, weaker-minded individuals who try to help Joy run her business, although, ultimately, she realizes she needs to take her affairs head-on to create a better life for herself and her two kids, specifically and symbolically her five-year-old daughter, Christie.
(Side fact: the parts of Christie and younger brother Tommy are each played by a set of twins, though Tommy’s barely in the film).
Virginia Madsen delivers a special performance, one that’s worth more than a few really good laughs, as Terry, Joy’s mom, a basically self-desocialized woman who refuses to get out of bed, instead living vicariously through her afternoon stories which take on an awkward, considerably unnecessary role in the early part of the film. As a matter of fact, the film opens inside of one of Terry’s shows, and later, Joy has nightmares that take on the same setting as that show.
There’s a lot of dirt, in the form of family, on the ground floor of the film, but Jennifer Lawrence mops it all up in a performance that, honestly, exceeds expectations. She carries Joy like she does her morning coffee (high) and taps into Joy Mangano, a smart, determined woman.
It’s even in the way she walks. What Lawrence brings to the Mangano portrayal, in only a way that she can, is this scary-because-she’s-probably-going-slightly-mad look about her. Lawrence’s Mangano is equal parts crazy and scary (intimidating, maybe), but she’s warm on the inside. Joy’s basically making it up as she goes, without any lick of business school savvy, but she has street smarts and she’s heady. In the end, what she becomes is an unstoppable force. And with Lawrence’s imprint, Joy’s one hell of an entertaining character.