December is always a month chop full with new biopics and courageous stories. Joy is no exception to that trend and it doesn’t manage to break free of the basement dweller status that many of these occupy.
By Kenneth Shipp
Joy is the story about Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), creator of the Miracle Mop, and how she brought that product to market, despite the help and obstacles presented by life and her family. Like so many biopics, this doesn’t follow Mangano’s life to a tee, so don’t expect everything to factual. Joy had always been an inventor and dreamer until the untimely divorce of her parents. By the time we get to the main story, she has been divorced herself, is supporting both her parents, ex husband, two children and grandmother. From this desperate position, we start to see Joy rise out of her circumstances and try to make something more for herself.
Joy’s character reminds me so much of an alternate version George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life. Both were forced to take over a family responsibility that took them away from how they would lived their lives. But where George’s position is more out of a sense of duty and taking care of family, Joy is stuck in a family that doesn’t realize how much damage they are doing to her. She talks about a collar she invented that she now sees being sold by another person. She laments to her out of touch mother that had she gotten her a patent when she asked for it, they could have been the ones selling it. Her mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), sits in the bed all day watching the soap operas that Joy sees in her dreams. Her father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), can’t keep a stable relationship and is a rather angry individual. Her ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez), who lives in her basement, only sings and refuses to get a real job. So suffice to say, she’s got a ridiculous amount on her plate when we met her.
The first thing that may drive you nuts with the film is the structure. We shift between too many vantage points before we are ever able to really attach to Joy. Her grandmother is narrating the movie, Joy has dreams set in the fictional daytime soap operas reflecting her regret, and we see various flashbacks from the main story line. Now, I’m not saying that shifting through so many points of view is bad. Honestly, it can be rather invigorating if done right. In this case however, it seemed a bit much.
Joy’s family will keep you engaged with their antics, but their problems keep us from truly latching onto Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. It’s not like she isn’t trying, we just get a bit overwhelmed by the hilarity and absurdity of their actions. Where we can definitely relate to with Joy are in the moments were she tries to rise above and keeps getting thwarted by his half-sister, mother, father, ex-husband and various other obstacles. It makes for some entertaining and heartfelt moments, but again the craziness of it can take you out of the experience. A better balance of this is found when she makes her first venture to QVC and negotiates her initial deal. Joy has finally come into her own and if you payed attention this far, you will care about Joy much more now that you can hear her voice. Lawrence’s performance shines through and she is able to finish off the last hour of the film pretty strong despite the odd mixture of her family. What may be the most distracting is how irrational her families actions are without being directly called out. The audience is apparently supposed go along with this craziness when no rational person would have kept going without questioning some of their nonsense.
While Lawrence takes care of business, she is undermined by a few too many things going on in this narrative. It’s certainly worth one watch for Lawrence’s work, and that’s about it.
Joy: 5 out of 10
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