As "inspired by the stories of daring women", David O. Russell hits all his usual marks in the (very) loosely based biographical film about American inventor Joy Mangano (an executive producer on the film). Once again starring Jennifer Lawrence as the eponymous creator of the Miracle Mop and countless other products, Joy is a dysfunctional family melodrama that often bursts with energy and character but never recovers from its loose and very messy construction.
In many ways, Joy feels like a mashup of Russell's most recent works (think Silver Linings Playbook meets American Hustle) and starring his now repertory players like Bradley Cooper (in a small role) and Robert De Niro (as Joy's father). While his other films can run on fumes and power through weak story elements or an inconsistent narrative, this film feels slight from the start without much of any focus. There's also a last act hurdle and legal threat that feels not only preposterous convenient but ineffectively executed.
The material just isn't there as the glamorous Lawrence does her best but is at least ten years too young to play a underachieving divorced mother of two struggling under the weight of life and deep into the perils of adulthood. It's not until Joy meets Cooper's character, a home shopping television executive, that the film starts to course correct ever so slightly. The pair continue to have an undeniable chemistry and rhythm with the few scenes they share together easily being the most compelling.
In usual Russell fashion, the ensemble cast is fun bunch of character actors. Édgar Ramírez offers a nice, friendly presence as Joy's ex-husband and confidant but is barely there. Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dianne Ladd, Elisabeth Röhm, and Dascha Polanco round out Joy's loud family and cohorts. However, with so many of them, each often gets lost or little screen time to add dept to Joy's story. Also, this time around, the family dysfunction feels tired and a lesser than retread of elements from Silver Lings Playbook or The Fighter.
Joy never comes together despite a very talented cast and Russell's usually reliable direction. It feels like a minor work of A-list talent executing, at best, C-list material unable to lift it above that level. The film moves along well enough but can't escape its TV movie feel despite being based on some inherently interesting real-life material.
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