Joy
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley
Duration: 124 mins
Class: 12
KRS Releasing Ltd

Joy tells a typical rags-to-riches story; that of the unlikely rise to fame and fortune of Joy Mangano, a Long Island single mother who became a ‘teleshopping’ star in the 1990s. She built up her empire from scratch, starting with the famous self-wringing Miracle Mop and went on to create many useful, and wildly popular, household items.

The film that bears Mangano’s first name is loosely inspired by her story and that, in the words of director David O. Russell, of “daring women I’ve been aware of and read about for many years”. And he has succeeded in celebrating these entrepreneurial women who have over the years grabbed the opportunities presented them and carved our successful and inspirational careers, thanks in no small part to his leading lady.

To play the titular character, Russell called on the actor who has starred in his two previous successful films. In Jennifer Lawrence, who won an Oscar for her role in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and won great acclaim for her part in his follow-up, American Hustle, Russell has a safe bet on his hands – Lawrence, yet again, displays her formidable talent and priceless charisma in creating the title role.

Apart from the occasional scene depicting the young Joy and her penchant for inventing stuff (where she is played by Isabella Crovetti-Cramp), Lawrence portrays Joy from her early 20s, as she struggles to raise her three children in the working-class home she shares with her dysfunctional family to a successful older entrepreneur. And true to form, the performance is note perfect.

Lawrence, yet again, displays her formidable talent and priceless charisma

From the earlier scenes – where we are introduced to Joy as harried single mom, juggling her kids, ex-husband, mother, father and grandmother, who all share the same house and struggling to make ends meet – Lawrence expressively and sensitively embodies the aspiration for a better life.

She portrays the determination to succeed; the fearlessness when facing bullying and untrustworthy suppliers; and the emotional breakdowns when things go pear-shaped that come her way – all tempered by a heart of gold and an all-encompassing spirit of generosity. The 25-year-old Lawrence is equally believable as the older incarnation of the character, projecting the wisdom and gravitas that come with maturity.

Joy’s chaotic extended family was as much a part of her success, egged on by both the support she received and the obstacles they placed in her way. Russell has surrounded his star with a superb ensemble, including Robert De Niro as Joy’s emotional fickle father, Virginia Madsen as her miserable mother, Edgar Ramirez as Joy’s annoying, yet supportive, ex-husband, Isabella Rossellini as her father’s companion and Diane Ladd as Joy’s beloved grandmother. There’s also Bradley Cooper in his fourth film with Lawrence, in a small but pivotal role as a teleshopping network executive.

Where the film falters slightly is in Russell’s attempt to accentuate what is going on in Joy’s life in the depiction of the scenes from her mum’s favourite soap opera, which she watches incessantly.

Indeed, at times of acute stress, Joy imagines herself as a participant in said soap, all glamorous outfits, big hair, sumptuous houses and bad acting. However, it doesn’t quite work – it’s an attempt at quirkiness which seems forced, and is unnecessary.

Sometimes, a straightforward narrative suffices – especially if that narrative is powered by such a strong, charismatic central performance, which, it has to be said, is a joy to behold.