Joy *** 

Directed by David O. Russell
Screenplay by David O. Russell and Annie Moumolo
Starring; with Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen

 Joy Mangano is a young woman full of strength and inventiveness, with a turbulent family ‑ divorced parents, ex-husband, children and grandmother ‑ that seems to rely only on her and her strength. In fact, for years she has slaved away sacrificing everything for them. Until one day, just at the peak of exhaustion and discouragement, she decides to focus on an idea, one of those clever and creative ideas her childhood was filled with and that now rise from her daily necessities: a self-squeezing mop. This new adventure will be full of surprises, deceptions, disappointments, and Joy will have to draw the strength to do it from within herself …

 

David O. Russell’s latest movie explores with tones of hyper-realism, melodrama and fairy tale the story of an atypical American dream. The tale focuses on a woman (played by an always remarkable Jennifer Lawrence), who has a seemingly inexhaustible capacity for endurance, as she draws to herself ‑ through personal vocation, or manifest destiny ‑ the (few) fortunes and (many) misfortunes of a mediocre and dysfunctional family. Above all, her endurance comes from the ability to see a different horizon in spite of everything; even a banal household object offers a revolutionary prospect.

Russell explicitly weaves the epic of a female character as extraordinary as it is common, and does so through the words of the only other member of the family, her grandmother, who seems to be able to give, as well as take and demand.

Joy’s family universe, a patchwork of paranoia, needs and meanness ‑ as great as it is unwitting (from the mother hypnotized by the soap operas to his father always in search of new love, from the jealous sister to the lazy ex-husband) ‑ constitutes both the strength and weakness of the movie. Like the previous works from the same director, this one tends to lose the thread of the plot as it focuses on highly effective but sometimes unrelated scenes.

The heroine’s journey proceeds with few moments of excitement among continuing obstacles and moments of despair. Everyone seems to work against her, apart from a former husband better suited as a friend than as partner in life. He is also the dynamic director of home shopping network that gives her a chance, an unpredictable prince charming who opens the doors of success rather than those of love.

This is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the story: Joy rediscovers herself without betraying those bonds that seem to have brought her more trouble than happiness, continuing to take care of people who mostly do not deserve her love and dedication. Above all, she achieves this by finally believing in her capabilities, without relying on a plastic dream built by the media, as her mother did, or a low-rent romance like her father’s.

It is sometimes difficult, however, to follow this film between its deviations, narrative levels (the passing of time is cleverly marked by the evolution in style of the favorite soap characters of Joy’s mother, amounting almost to a meta-story), dreams, nightmares and metaphors. Instead of helping the audience, these tricks sometimes just confound us and risk becoming a little smug.

The movie heavily dramatizes the life of the real Joy Mangano, still one of America’s most recognizable telemarketers, who built her fortune on a number of other ingenious patents. While offering some unforgettable moments, therefore, Russell’s ode to the courage of everyday life proves to be a sometimes difficult and not always engaging journey.

Problematic elements: some explicit language and some scenes of sexual nature. 

Laura Cotta Ramosino works for Cattleya, an Italian production company, as a creative producer and story editor for several television shows. She is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri...