Though awkward in its presentation at points, David O. Russell's new semi-true comedy-drama stands tall as an inspirational and relatable story of a woman's success in the pressure of a man's world.
Joy, the latest feature from David O. Russell, writer and director of Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013), follows its title character Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) as she creates, and is repeatedly thrown under the bus by her own business empire as she deals with, then creates an alliance between, her own broken home.
Jennifer Lawrence gives a stunning performance as Joy, a strong, self-reliant divorced mother of two; a performance which sparks out as something different yet vital for modern cinema – something which has us asking: why haven’t we seen this before? Whilst her co-stars Bradley Cooper, playing Joy’s business partner Neil Walker, and Robert De Niro, Joy’s vehement father, offer similarly respectful performances which more compliment Lawrence’s than anything else.
Whilst remaining consistent in style, expression and inspiration throughout, Joy resists the temptation to over-generalise. Joy’s background, her past, her family situation and the problems she faces are never dumbed down for what would usually be assumed to be an ignorant audience. Indeed, their specificity is instead respected. Joy appears real, as she should be.
With an impressive score and musical accompaniment by West Dylan Thordson and David Campbell along with other more-or-less famous old tunes like ‘Something Stupid’ and ‘A Little Less Conversation’, it becomes hard at times to focus on the action at hand, but there is no mistaking how such action is punctuated masterly, if not remarkably, by the soundtrack. With the exception of the recent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), such expertly chosen pieces has been lacking undeniably from recent cinema and Joy provides a refreshing input.
Joy excels in its expression of the importance of hope and self-belief, yet at times the presentation of the motifs it uses to encapsulate such themes appears more than a tad awkward. Russell’s apparent need to repeatedly point fingers, submitting both characters and audience to direct motivation, implication, ideas of self-domination etc., seems over the top and rash. Its flagrance and blatancy cutting, if only for a second, the emotional spark it aimed for.
Although, awkward at points, clearly a lot smoother than it probably was in reality (although, really, what choice did they have other than to smooth out the bumps for our entertainment?), and following a predictable formula for the presentation of events and obstacles of Joy’s life, Joy remains at heart an inspirational true-life story of a woman’s dreams and success in an inarguably man’s world. Unafraid of showing Joy’s vulnerability, the film utilises every dimension of her character, and indeed any and every woman’s character, to turn every weakness into a strength, every failure into a success story, and every free-fall into an ascent.
With its presentation of conflict, both domestic and business, remaining consistently on point, we fall with Joy and we fly with her. One to look out for at the Academy Awards, Joy will remain an original and beautiful story of how one woman, representing many, rose to the top for years to come.
Joy (2015), directed by David O. Russell, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox. Certificate 12A.