Review: Jennifer Lawrence as a Modern-Day Cinderella in ‘Joy’ (Published 2015) – The New York Times

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On paper, David O. Russell’s new film, “Joy,” looks perfectly straightforward, even square. It’s a bootstrap-capitalist fable, a tale of adversity overcome and rags exchanged for riches, a case study in success suitable for a self-improvement seminar.
But Mr. Russell likes to tell conventional stories in unconventional ways. In the chapter of his career that began with “The Fighter” (2010), he has emerged as something of a genre magician, able to make formulas and clichés disappear behind a smoke screen of artful misdirection. “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) was an assembly-line romantic comedy tricked out with a wild paint job and a souped-up, custom-built engine. “American Hustle” (2013) was a caper movie blown up into a pop opera. “The Fighter” itself — the movie “Joy” most resembles — was a boxing picture with an irregular heartbeat and a wildly talented cast.
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Like Micky Ward, the striving pug played by Mark Wahlberg in that movie, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself thwarted and undermined by her own family. In the film’s opening scenes, her various relations nearly erase her altogether, blocking Ms. Lawrence’s quiet incandescence with ugliness and noise. The divorced mother of two young children, Joy left college when her parents split up and now contends daily with a small army of needy narcissists. Her mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), lies in bed all day watching a soap opera (a fake one that Mr. Russell has cast with real-life soap opera stars). Rudy (Robert De Niro), Terry’s ex-husband, acts like a helpless child when he’s single and like an entitled patriarch when there’s a woman in his life. Joy also has a passive-aggressive sister (Elisabeth Rohm) and an ex-husband of her own, who is living in her basement until his singing career takes off.
All of this information is conveyed in Mr. Russell’s breathless, breakneck style. The camera never stops moving, the people never shut up, and the resulting buzz is both stimulating and enervating. There are a few bright spots and calm moments in Joy’s drab, frenetic life. Her grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd), believes in her (and provides benevolent voice-over narration). Joy’s ex, Tony (Édgar Ramírez), is actually a pretty nice guy and is able, like Amy Adams’s character in “The Fighter,” to be an ally against the familial back stabbers.
Just when you begin to wonder where the movie is going — Toward domestic comedy? Second-chance romance? Lurid dysfunction? — Joy has an idea. Sketching with her children’s crayons, she invents a new kind of mop, the kind that can be wrung out without touching the head. (This household convenience really exists, and the character is very loosely based on its inventor and her career.) Flush with entrepreneurial zeal, Joy borrows money from her father’s new companion (a supremely haughty Isabella Rossellini), works out the patent and supply-chain issues, and prepares to revolutionize American floor cleaning.
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