Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) has been inventing things since she was a child, but family drama threatens to crush her dreams before she can ever pursue them. Joy gets demoted from a daytime shift to a nighttime shift at an airline ticket counter. Her father Rudy (Robert DeNiro) show up at her door after an ex-girlfriend dumps him. He rebounds quickly, and starts dating an Italian woman named Trudy. (Isabella Rosselini) Her mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen) won’t leave her room, or stop watching daytime dramas. To complicate matters, Joy’s ex-husband Tony, (Edgar Ramirez) is living in Joy’s basement. Tony swept Joy off her feet in college with his promises to be “the next Tom Jones.”
While on a trip on Trudy’s boat, Joy spills red wine on the boat’s deck, and has to mop up the mess. Joy cuts up her hands, but comes up with an idea for a self-wringing mop. Joy sketches the idea with her daughter’s colored pencils, and talks Trudy into investing in it. Joy puts a prototype together in her father’s factory, and tries demonstrating it in a K-Mart, which leads to her arrest, for attempting to sell the mop without a permit. Tony has one last Hail Mary idea, he introduces Joy to Neil Walker, (Bradley Cooper) an executive at a fledgling home shopping network called QVC. Does Joy’s mop sell on QVC?
It’s appropriate that Joy starts with a scene from a fake soap opera, because the whole movie plays like a soap opera. First there’s Joy’s sketchy father, a businessman dumped on Joy’s doorstep by an ex-girlfriend, and who ends up with an Italian wife or girlfriend, then there’s Joy’s mother, who for some reason won’t leave her bedroom, then there’s Joy’s ex-husband, who’s still living in her basement, two years after their divorce. By the time all the dysfunction is disposed of, the writers finally get around to Joy’s invention, and guess what? I didn’t care. It’s only a stupid mop, it’s not a cure for cancer, it’s not a self-driving car, it’s a stupid mop, on a channel that sells cheap plastic crap day and night. For some reason, Joy is singing when she meets Tony. Why was this scene necessary? It wasn’t. This movie is supposed to be about how difficult it is to be a female entrepreneur, but all the family drama and impromptu singing actually detract from the central theme. The ending is much too neat for such a messy story.
The acting is subpar. Jennifer Lawrence got an Academy Award nomination for this role, God knows why. I never believed for a second that she was a struggling suburban housewife, trying to make ends meet. A good performance makes the viewer lose themselves in the character. That doesn’t happen here, she is much too attractive to be a character actress. Bradley Cooper’s performance is similar, I never believed that he was part of QVC, he just seemed like a very handsome guy playing a role. Robert DeNiro seems to have lost his touch as a character actor, and seems to be interested in making Rudy into a semi-comic character. Isabella Rossalini doesn’t have much to add to her role besides her Italian accent.
The direction is not good either. David O. Russell wrote and directed this movie, so naturally he thinks every detail is important in telling the story, hence the pacing struggles, it’s a half an hour into the movie before, the viewer even hears about the mop. An hour before Cooper is introduced. Frankly, Russell needs to break up this little company of three actors that he’s got in every movie. Stars appearing in big Hollywood movies worked in the 1940’s, because Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn were great actors for one, and they made a very specific type of movie, the screwball comedy, which they were very good at. DeNiro’s the best actor of the three, Cooper is good, not great, and Lawrence is not that great an actress. She is not mature enough to play these character roles. Russell doesn’t really get great performances from any of the three, and so the movie suffers. Russell also tries visual flourishes, like sudden zooms of the camera, crane shots, silhouette shots, and lots of snow but that hardly breaks up the monotony of a very long film.
Joy: J-Law and Bradley can’t mop up this mess.