Jennifer Lawrence in JOY
James Devaney /Gilbert Carrasquillo /Getty Images, BxPix /Splash News
When the SAG Award and Golden Globe nominations dropped last week, JOY, a presumed awards season frontrunner, only picked up two honours. Underwhelmed? Surprised? You shouldn't be. Despite the hype of being the third Jennifer Lawrence-David O.Russell collaboration, the buzz is tepid for a reason. Yes, the film only has a 58 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, because it's a completely watchable mess. Buoyed by Jennifer's ferocious ambition, JOY profiles the real-life title character's American (dream) hustle, yet the frenzied-but-ambitious biopic spreads itself way too thin. Unsatisfying and all over the place, JOY leaves you wanting more, but not in a good way.
While Jennifer does everything she can to save the movie, JOY was riddled by production woes from the start. First, there were the (confirmed) reports of profanity-laden screaming matches between herself and David, further amplified by story credit drama between Bridesmaids co-writer Annie Mumolo and David, and a reported rush to meet its 2015 release date. All of this strife is visible on-screen, as Joy's rise to power remains out of focus or clouded by her inexplicable devotion to her family. The film cannot escape its frantic pace and ultimately struggles to take flight, as it spends too much time outlining Joy's frustrations with her relatives as opposed to showing her eventual success or development of her home shopping empire.
Is this film supposed to be a darker version of Baby Boom or Home for the Holidays? The movie refuses to choose or settle somewhere in between. Plus how often can you say you hoped the movie was at least 30 minutes longer so certain plotlines might find a satisfying resolution?
Jennifer's Joy is a divorced mother of two who, time and time again, pushes aside her own career aspirations and inventive spirit to support her blended family, which includes her two children, soap opera-addicted mother Carrie (an aged-up Virginia Madsen in a post-Sideways career-best turn), lovesick father Rudy (Robert De Niro) and Tom Jones wannabe ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez). She works a series of odd jobs to keep them financially afloat, but finally has her eureka moment while doing what she does best, cleaning up after somebody else's mess. Her ex's clumsiness on a sailboat belonging to her father's new paramour Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) results in the development of the Miracle Mop, which, we're told, will go on to break QVC records and change all of their lives.
Of course, that's not without some speed bumps. A fierce negotiator, Joy talks her way into the QVC offices, where she meets a cartoonishly-slick Bradley Cooper - a QVC exec - who reluctantly agrees to put her on TV. But, do not get your hopes up for a Silver Linings Playbook-style reunion. Bradley is barely in the movie, and just edges out Melissa Rivers (who plays the QVC-era Joan Rivers brilliantly) for screen time. However, it's Joy's loyalty to her family that results in her downfall and eventual comeuppance, which overshadows her ensuing achievements. Though it's shot beautifully, the focus on Joy's early life is completely underwhelming when compared to the power of her triumph. You can't take the film seriously, because of the clumsy way it frames Joy's drive.
Jennifer does an exceptional job selling what she's given, and regardless of the film's misguided concentration, will probably earn her fourth Oscar nomination. While it will not result in her second win, she's once again able to seamlessly play a teenager, twentysomething and thirtysomething, all thanks to her fierce intensity and determination. She even sings on-screen, something she was reluctant to do again after her rendition of "The Hanging Tree" in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One. This time, it's Something Stupid, a song that's been recently covered by two other Oscar winners, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon.
Why did David O. Russell make J Law sing "Somethin' Stupid" in JOY, despite her well-stated hatred of singing? "He's a dick," laughs J Law.— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) November 29, 2015
While the Lawrence-O. Russell partnership has earned the pair 18 Oscar nominations so far, this most recent project is far from golden. Good but nowhere near great, the most alluring part of Joy's story was likely left on the cutting room floor, or in a yet-to-be polished, or written, revision.