Regardless of what you feel about Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, or The Fighter, you have to applaud David O. Russell’s auteurism. He really knows how to put his stamp on a film. Much like Woody Allen or Quentin Tarantino, there’s something to be said of a filmmaker who does it his own way no matter what.
Joy is an uplifting tale of the lady who invented the Miracle Mop. It’s about the true struggle of the American dream. Jennifer Lawrence plays Joy, a single mother from a dysfunctional family. But that family of hers all lives under her roof. This includes her ex-husband, her divorced parents, her two children, and her grandmother. Joy has a lot of ideas, but doesn’t live in a world where doing anything about them makes any sense. Nobody around her is successful. Even though setting is never really established (we never get the year or location), we can tell that it’s a town where everyone just lives to survive. Until one day, when Joy’s father starts dating a rich widow, who’s acquiescently convinced to fund one of Joy’s inventions.
The first act of this film is spent establishing the craziness of Joy’s life. She doesn’t truly present her product until about 45 minutes in. Before that, we spend time trying to get accustomed to the oddness of this movie, with Russell perhaps borrowing, in a way, from Wes Anderson, taking pages right out of his book.
Then the film really starts getting good when Joy makes a deal to sell her product on QVC. This is also when Bradley Cooper enters the film as Neil Walker, an executive at QVC. We get a behind the scenes look at something we never thought we’d get–a home shopping television channel. It’s probably something we never even realized we wanted to get. But when it’s there, we love it. It’s, by far, one of the best things about this movie.
It’s hard to believe that there was once a time when QVC was revolutionary. “People can actually shop from the comfort of their own home?!” And Joy sprinkles this detail in there as well.
If Russell can keep one thing constant throughout his films, it’s the chaos he creates. This chaos comes from overlapping dialogue, intrusive camera angles, and a lot of yelling. Whether you see it as a good thing (Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter) or unnecessary (American Hustle), his style is established.
In Joy, it works as both good and bad. The good is used when Russell juxtaposes Joy’s chaotic home life with the magic of television. The bad is during the beginning when it’s all we see and we need desperately to escape from it.
The whole film is very surrealistic. Joy’s mother is seen watching soap operas intermittently throughout. But we are let in on the story. Russell hires actual soap opera stars, including Susan Lucci, to play the fictional soap opera characters. We are also inside Joy’s heads a few times as she dreams of different things, including starring in the soap opera herself.
As a character, it’s hard for us to put Joy’s personality in a box. She doesn’t smile much. Her demeanor is sometimes reserved, but explosive at other times. She is both strong and vulnerable, depending on the circumstance. You might say that this is attributed to the complexity of us as humans. Or you can just say that it has to do with the director’s uncertainty of his character. Nonetheless, it’s fun watching Lawrence perform a vast array of moods.
But I really like this film. A lot, actually. Joy’s hunger to make it in this capitalist society is inspiring. Her story isn’t necessarily a unique one, but her situation is. So many of us have ideas, but the fear of failing hinders us. This film shows all of that. It also shows how one might overcome it.