As an inspirational true story, Joy works almost entirely because of the absolute and commanding delivery from Jennifer Lawrence.

To a certain extent, Joy can be construed as a follow up to 2012’s Best Picture nominee, Silver Linings Playbook. That’s because almost everyone from the latter film is back, including director David O. Russell. Does it work as a worthy follow up? Yes and no. And at the risk of sounding sexist (albeit unintentionally), I might even add that Joy is best appreciated by the fairer sex. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the male audience is in for a snooze fest either.

Evident right from the monochromatic prologue, Russell’s narrative is a reverence for head-strong women with the heart to match. It’s a pitch Russell has been honing for some time now, and after last year’s American Hustle (also nominated for Best Picture), this would be his third consecutive film featuring the highly gifted Jennifer Lawrence. In a befitting parallel, Lawrence plays the titular Joy Mangano, a Long-Island based single mother who invented the Miracle Mop in the 1990s. Russell’s story is narrated by Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), the only person who believes that her granddaughter is special. A divorcee herself, Joy has to deal with bickering from her divorced parents (Robert De Niro and Virginia Madsen), raising her kids in a rickety house, and her Tom Jones wannabe ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) living in the basement. Russell’s nuance for dysfunctional family farce forms a bulk of the narrative before Joy comes up with the idea of a self-wringing mop. Designing and inventing the mop was the easy part. Selling it to the American public turns out to be a nightmare, made worse by betrayal and jealously from her family.

That Joy went on to become a wealthy entrepreneur with over 100 patented products is barely touched upon. Instead, Russell’s main focus is on Joy’s struggles, and then a tonal shift through her determination to overcome a series of obstacles. Quite literally, Joy is initially on her hands and knees, mopping up after her deranged family, before a faceoff in Texas turns her into an overnight success story. In retrospect this might seem predictable, but the film’s appeal is in its rags to riches underdog factor. It’s a modern day Cinderella story without the need of a prince, and therein lies Russell’s pro feminist plot device. As such, there isn’t a male lead and the film is almost entirely anchored by Lawrence with gravitas much beyond her age. Reminiscent of her commanding tenacity in Winter’s Bone, Lawrence is not only worthy of another Oscar nomination, her delivery here suggests that she could be in for the long-haul as a true blue Hollywood sweetheart. Meanwhile, De Niro is at his sarcastic best opposite Isabella Rossellini as Rudy and Trudy, hopeless romantics with a bizarre twist. Also returning is Bradley Cooper but late in the film. Although his character plays an important role, Cooper’s inclusion is more of a submissive nod to previous collaborations with the director.

In a year that produced quite a few films based on true stories, Joy works as an inspirational biopic owing to Russell’s aptitude for minefield dramedies. Once again, characters punctuate the story with screwball mayhem but unlike Silver Linings Playbook, spontaneous hilarity is quickly replaced by an emotional backdrop that peaks towards the end. Like Erin Brockovich before, the heart of the film is highly inspiring in saying that if one woman could, any woman can. With or without a man.

Rating: ★★★☆☆


About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.