“Joy”: Jennifer Lawrence plays a mop mogul in a film that never quite fulfills its promise. 2.5 stars out of 4.
Filmmaker David O. Russell is in a bit of a rut. “Joy,” a vaguely fact-based dramedy about the woman who invents the “self-wringing” Miracle Mop, is his third film in a row to star Jennifer Lawrence (following “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”). And while the perpetually charming Lawrence isn’t the worst habit a filmmaker can develop, she’s valiantly miscast here in a story that never quite hits its mark.
Joy Mangano (Lawrence) is one of those people on whom the world depends: She’s the pulled-in-all-directions center of an eccentric family that includes her divorced father (Robert De Niro, basically reprising his “Silver Linings Playbook” role), soap-opera-obsessed mother (Virginia Madsen), supportive grandmother (Diane Ladd), semi-stepmother (Isabella Rossellini) and ex-husband (édgar Ramírez) who lives in Joy’s basement and dreams of being the next Tom Jones. (He just might rate his own movie.) Juggling the needs of all of these people, plus small children, plus a dead-end job has Joy as frayed as the end of her mop. But, gazing mopward one day, she hits on an idea — one that just might make enough money to change the lives of all of those she loves.
Lawrence, as always, throws herself into the role like a kid diving into a swimming hole, and her wide-open, determined vibrancy almost makes you forget that she’s too young for it. Her charm almost distracts, but not quite, from a significant problem in the script: The film’s all lead-up and no follow-through. Which essentially means that poor Joy, who we like very much, flails and struggles for nearly two hours in that trademark, slightly-over-the-top-David-O.-Russell way, and when she finally succeeds, walking away from a confrontation with an agreeably badass lilt to her step, it’s almost credits time. Were the oddly brief late scenes, with an older Joy running her empire, trimmed for time? Was it just not believable to present the mid-20s Lawrence as a forty-something mogul? Or did Russell just think it didn’t matter? In any case, Lawrence is a joy, but the movie, sadly, isn’t.
Movie Review ★★½
‘Joy,’ with Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Rohm, Bradley Cooper. Written and directed by David O. Russell. 124 minutes. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. Several theaters.