With the release of his 2010 film The Fighter, David O. Russell set off on a series of cinematic journeys. The director is now known for his genre-blending, fast-talking, opuses that have earned him his many loyal followers as well as a large base of detractors. His latest film Joy, continues that journey, using melodrama and zany humour to in a skewered Cinderella story of sorts.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Joy, a woman living in emotional squalor. As the sole breadwinner for her home, Joy looks after her aging grandmother (Diane Ladd, also our narrator), her selectively bedridden mother (Virginia Madsen), her single father Rudy (Robert De Niro), ex-husband Troy (Edgar Ramirez), and two kids. With seven residents under one small roof, Joy is overrun. After spill on her father’s new girlfriend Trudy’s (Isabelle Rossellini) yacht, Joy has an idea: a self-wringing mop. After an investment from Trudy, Joy immediately begins the production of her self-wringing mop, entering herself into the world of business.
Joy works for the simple reason why Russell’s previous films work. The director continues to toy with narrative conventions, providing a story that never seems to head in the exact direction one would expect. He continues push his actor’s to their absolute potential, bringing out performances that are often not just excellent, but riveting. As to be expected, Lawrence is at the top of her game. By the time she chops off her hair to go full Meg Ryan (you’ll see), she can do no wrong. While the entire ensemble is impeccable, a distinct mention must go to De Niro and Rossellini, who appear to be having the time of their lives in the film. Rossellini in particular has not a role this energetic in quite some time, and her enthusiasm shines through.
Virginia Madsen’s Terry sits in bed all day watching a soap opera, one that Russell has created starring real soap actors including Susan Lucci. The fact that Joy often mirrors the soap on screen is no mistake. It is Russell’s clean-cut, shiny approach to Joy’s arc that gives the film the unique quality that makes the film so wonderful.
Joy is not going to bring anyone to David O. Russell’s team that was not there already. He is not treading on new cinematic ground, but is rather experimenting with conventions that have worked since the creation of narrative storytelling. While the final moments may prove to be peculiar, even for the tone Russell is going for, that does not stop Joy from being one of the most bright and delightful films of the holiday season.