Release Date: December 25th
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: David O. Russell
Release Format: Theatrical
David O. Russell has been on a pretty good streak when it comes to directing entertaining and Oscar worthy films. American Hustle had an enjoyable cast, great performances and a generally interesting story to tell. On the flip side, Silver Linings Playbook produced one of the best, if not the best performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper’s careers. Both of these films received several Oscar nods and one actually nabbing Best Supporting Actress thanks to Lawrence. Enter Joy, Russell’s next film that tackles an ambitious hero with a dysfunctional family that is destined to succeed despite everything being against her. This isn’t exactly new ground for Russell’s stories, yet can still be very interesting ground to cover if I can find myself emotionally investing in the characters at all. Which, I am sad to say, was hardly the case with Joy, as this may be one of the blandest films of 2015.
The story follows our main character Joy (Jennifer Lawrence), a divorced single mother who is an aspiring inventor dealing with her crazed family. She eventually creates a unique product that puts her on the many ups and downs of the business world and all the problems that come with it. Listen I could say I’m not going to spoil the story, but it honestly writes itself. Joy doesn’t offer any unique turns or interesting changes to this by-the-numbers story. Russell plays it incredibly safe with Joy, developing characters and motives just enough to string a story along that’s easy to digest. Given how a story about the dangers of doing business with others could, and has, been better; it was highly disappointing to see how watered down everything was. It almost feels as if the story was just slapped together quickly without thinking about adding any layers of nuance that his previous films had. This coupled along with the terrible pacing that the movie progresses at, makes for a generally unenjoyable experience.
Speaking of Joy‘s pacing, it’s all over the map through the film’s two-hour runtime. Russell takes an exhausting amount of time showing how dysfunctional Joy’s family really is. Normally spending this much time to develop characters would be good, but Russell doesn’t really give these characters any real depth. The first forty minutes is basically showing how crazy, selfish and rude her family is; regardless that this is pretty easily acknowledged within the first fifteen minutes of the movie. It does pick up during the middle portion once Joy actually makes it to QVC which offers the most entertaining segments of the entire film. Joy feels like a mess and a disjointed film that doesn’t know what it wants to do. Throughout the course of the movie, Joy has a bad habit of grinding to an unbearable halt just so you can be told information that is easily deduced by watching alone. Russell holds our hands here, spending more time than is needed explaining every single aspect without relying on the audience’s own perception to figure it all out.
Characters are also disappointingly vague and uninteresting. Both her father Rudy (Robert De Niro) and mother Terry (Virginia Madsen) give one-dimensional performances and half-hearted acting in every scene they are in. No one aside from Joy and maybe her ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) has any sort of emotional arc that can carry the story. Not to mention she clearly has two kids in the beginning of the movie, but only one really seems to have any significance. Her little boy basically vanishes in the movie about half way in and is never spoken of again. Joy’s daughter is clearly her favorite and offers some of the most intriguing moments in the plot with the leading lady.
Speaking of Joy, while Lawrence gives a commendable performance as the hopeful business woman, but it’s not enough to save the rest of the mediocre, one-dimensional characters. Bradley Cooper is also in the movie, though his role is so paper thin that we really learn nothing about him. He is a means to the end in terms of the story, which seems to be the general purpose for all the characters. To just push Joy further along her endeavors until she reaches her eventual success, not really challenging her in any interesting ways. Joy is infallible in everything she seems to do and always turns the tables around. You can almost hear the gears grinding as Russell attempts to re-engineer the script around so it always comes up in Joy’s favor.
The soundtrack was a nice bright spot, offering some great songs to compliment the actions on screen. The music is used few and far between but, when it is, the songs chosen give the moments a more dramatic impact. This goes with the cinematography as well, which also seems to be a bit by the numbers. There were no stunning shots and if you have seen any of David O. Russell’s previous films, there is nothing new here. It all feels like we are treading familiar ground and Russell seems to have a refusal in changing his style or adapting new ones in any way. There are small nuggets of him clearly trying to flex his creative muscles in the form of weird dreams that Joy experiences, but they simply come out of left field. None of them are as quirky, amusing or even frightening as clearly intended; instead coming off as an awkward mess.
I didn’t absolutely hate Joy, as there were a few small nuggets of hope locked away in this mediocre mess. The QVC segments are fun and witty, along with both Lawrence’s performance and her interactions with her daughter Christie. Sadly the rest of Joy is just an uninspired work of cinema that struggled to keep me engaged in anything that was happening. While it was crystal clear what the destination was going to be for Joy, the journey to it was just very boring.
- Acting: Aside from Jennifer Lawrence, the rest of the cast offer uninspired performances that give their characters any sense of emotional depth. Everyone seems as if they are bored and just doing nothing more than going through the motions.
- Cinematography: There is nothing new here or any wow moments in terms of actual production. While the QVC segments are fun and engaging, they are too few and far between to save Joy. At least, the soundtrack was good.
- Story: Joy lacks surprises and any interesting turn of events that could keep this movie from being so formulaic. The plot is incredibly predictable and it seems as if David O. Russell isn’t sure with what kind of movie this exactly wants to be. Coupled with the painfully slow pacing that serves to further really no aspect of the plot and you get a generally boring film.
- Characters: While Joy is a unique character who does offer some genuinely fun moments, her inability to ever actually fail is frustrating. I’d comment on the other characters but they clearly didn’t matter that much to plot as a whole unless it’s to further Joy’s drive. Also, I’d still like to know where her one kid disappeared too.
- Lawrence's Performance
- The QVC Segments
- Predictable Story
- Clunky Dialogue
- Bland Characters
A recent graduate of Arcadia University, Collin MacGregor is a freelance video editor and writer. He covers video games, television, and film for The Nerd Stash. Collin currently is the head film/television reviewer for the site.