Have you ever seen a Lifetime Original Movie where the put-upon heroine is surrounded by characters who one-dimensional antagonists who are simply there to belittle her and make her life hell?
Then you don't need to see Joy.
The movie focuses on the title character played by the great Jennifer Lawrence who does the best she can with this script. She is a single mother with two children. She also supports her deadbeat mother (Virginia Madsen) and her deadbeat ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez). She also houses her obsessed father (Robert DeNiro) and Joy also has to put up with her envious half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm). The only person who supports her is her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) who tells her she is brilliant and has unlimited potential. After getting beaten down further and further by life, Joy borrows money from her father's new girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) and invents the Miracle Mop. She then ascends the steep cliff towards success where nearly everyone and everything in the story is designed to turn her into a martyr for successful women everywhere.
Writer/director David O. Russell brings a lot of his signature visual style to this story, but he didn't take time to flesh out any of the other characters. The scenes felt very disjointed, as if there was a lot more filmed but hacked down to the nub, leaving impressions rather than complete scenes. Characters would come in for a single seen to yell at Joy and berate her for being a terrible mother or a stupid business woman. It got to the point where my wife (who saw the movie with me and is not a violent person) turned to me when it was over and said, "I wanted to punch everyone in that movie."
It is a real shame because the plot has a lot of potential. There are moments of real fascination. When Joy goes to pitch her Wonder Mop to QVC, she we get treated to several scenes with Bradley Cooper as the cable channel's president Neil Walker. The scenes that Lawrence and Cooper share stand out in this mess of a movie. Those scenes have the best writing in the film (it makes me want to research the history of QVC) and the best performances. It makes me wish that the story was about Walker with Joy as a supporting character and not vice versa.
But outside of these scenes, the movie devolves into inanity. At one point Joy's sister Peggy makes a horrible deal that is going to ruin her business. This is the dialogue that follows:
Peggy: You'll get the money back.
Peggy: I've got ideas too, you know.
The dialogue is filled with stupid non sequitur like that. Peggy is there simply to play the role of embodied Envy. Joy's father is there to embody Selfishness. Trudy is Greed. Joy's mother is Sloth. These allegories would be interesting and acceptable if the characters had any kind of depth. Joy is simply a more adult Cinderella, pushed around by a wicked family. But this is one princesses who doesn't need a prince to save her. In fact the first and third act explicitly drive this point home.
As a Catholic, I enjoyed the fact that there is a strong emphasis on hard-work and faith in your God-given abilities. And I also enjoy the fact that it focuses on showing a strong woman who struggles to have her dignity recognized without losing any of her femininity. I was disappointed that there were no strong positive examples of marriage and family, but Joy's kindness and patience to those who push her around is somewhat Christlike.
I wanted to like Joy a lot more than I did. When I think of the movie I am filled with the opposite of joy because of all of this film's wasted potential.
1 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.