Joy offers ultimate joyfulness
Review by Daniel Dercksen
As with emotion, Joy the film is full of outstanding surprises, where an optimistic dream turns into a heated warzone where self-expression, individualism in a tightly-knit family, and the empowerment of identity and ownership clash head-on.
It springs from the extraordinary mind of writer-director of David O. Russell, who gave us the equally magnificent The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, and based this delightful tale loosely on the life and rise of inventor and home shopping star Joy Mangano.
Russell describes it as genre-blurring story that boldly fuses reality with fantasy, linear narrative with inventive flashbacks and flash-forwards, convention with experimental explorations, and an old-fashioned family drama with a contemporary women’s film.
It follows the wild path of a hard-working but half-broken family and the young girl who ultimately becomes its shining matriarch and leader in her own right.
Driven to create, but also to take care of those around her, Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) experiences betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love as she finds the steel and the belief to follow her once-suppressed dreams.
The result is an entertaining emotional and human comedy about a woman’s rise – navigating the unforgiving world of commerce, the chaos of family and the mysteries of inspiration while finding an unyielding source of happiness.
Russell’s previous films gave us vibrant characters in search of happiness and belonging, with Joy he gives us equally colourful characters who stand their ground and are vividly brought to life by an excellent ensemble.
Lawrence is superb in the title role and manages to effortlessly change her persona and appearance with confidence and fired motivated action, skilfully drawing us into the mindscape and world of a dreamer who refuses to give in to insurmountable demands that challenge her drive.
Equally brilliant are Diane Ladd as Joy’s insightful and influential grandmother, Isabella Rossellini as her father’s well-off Italian lover, Virginia Madsen as Joy’s soap-opera addicted mother, Dascha Polanco as Joy’s life-long friend and confidante, and Elisabeth Rohm as Joy’s rivalrous sister.
It’s a powerful female ensemble facing some great male contenders, with Edgar Ramirez as Joy’s ex-husband, a struggling musician living in the basement, Robert De Niro as Joy’s hot-tempered yet hopelessly romantic father; and Bradley Cooper as the mogul-style home shopping executive who becomes both Joy’s ally and adversary.
If there’s one reason to see this film, it’s for its marvellous cast, offering a wonderful barrage of contrasting emotions that is captivating and alluring.
The lives of their characters impact effectively and dramatically on Joy’s desperate search for recognition and understanding.
Russell cleverly dedicates the film to powerful women who dare to take risks and launches the story through a delightfully camp soap TV serial that shrewdly reflects the ordinary world of the characters, but also allows the characters to escape from their mundane existence.
Soon, Joy’s life does indeed become an absurd soap opera, filled with childhood dreams, grown-up dramas, and magical fantasy.
It’s these different emotive landscapes that gives Joy its alluring contrast and magnetism that build tension and offers great diversity.
It’s a story within a story and beyond, just as dreams only become real when they manifest, filled with hopeful aspiration and desperate loss if they evaporate.
We live in a world and society that feed off dreams, where everyone wants to be a product of the fantasy dominions created in television, film and the media.
Joy profoundly shows how easy dreams can imprison visionaries, but also how easily it can release us from our own mundane existence, and there is reward in perseverance.
If you are looking for a well-made film about people that open a poignant window to humanity and our plight for success, Joy succeeds on every level.