Watching the first quarter of Joy is like vicariously drowning. Her early life flashes before your eyes, moving forward and backward in time through childhood, work, family, romance. The tempo and style are strange. Joy’s grandmother narrates, and she’s barely a secondary character never mind a primary one. There are bizarre dream sequences involving a soap opera. Joy’s family are eccentric, single-trait obstacles. Yet it actually sort of works. In fact, for the first half/three quarters of an hour, Joy is a lot like what would happen if Wes Anderson directed a biopic. It’s a showcase of familial quirks and odd social situations, all played deliberately sincerely. It has a dry humour to it, and is a little bit weird.
Then it settles down a bit, and in a way that’s to its detriment. The beginning may be unusually executed, but it has a certain consistency of tone that the rest of David O’Russell’s films lacks. Based on the true story of Joy Mangano, inventor of the miracle mop, the film never quite decides how tethered to reality it wants to be. It flits between daft and solemn too lightly to appreciate either.
The biggest problem emerges in the more emotive scenes. O’Russell’s script, while brilliant in places, doesn’t quite seem to know when to stop. There’s hammering a point home, there’s drilling it directly into someone’s face, and then there’s this. Occasionally characters (and sometimes the voice-over) just come right out and state the purpose of the scene you’re watching. Joy’s a creative child. Life happens and her creativity lies dormant. We see her read a book to her daughter about cicadas who hide underground for seventeen years. This fact bothers her. So you reckon she feels some kinship. Then comes a dream in which someone points out that Joy has hidden part of herself for 17 years. The connection had already been made. The overused mantra of screen-writing is ‘show don’t tell’. Joy sometimes falls into the odd trap of doing both simultaneously.
It’s worth admitting at this point that Joy is good. Sometimes really good. But it leaves you in a very odd place. It’s enjoyable, well-acted and places Robert De Niro in something not terrible, which is nice. The QVC scenes and the interactions between Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy and Bradley Cooper’s Neil Walker showcase great chemistry between the leads.
Yet when you really try and think of specifics, most are bad. The voice-over is completely unnecessary and manages to add a misplaced supernatural edge to the narrative. The entire film seems to straddle the line between quirky family comedy and melodrama, and some of said family seem to have been included solely to make Joy’s struggle seem a little bit harder. Despite this it still manages to be good. Perhaps that’s to the credit of O’Russell’s unusual style. It’s messy but never boring.
Is it worth watching?
+ Directorial style
+ Dream team cast
– Uneven tone
Watch the trailer for Joy
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