Joy

Jennifer Lawrence radiates Joy*** throughout David O Russell’s almost-interesting movie about the woman who invented the miracle mop, Joy Magnano.

The star just keeps on shining while indignities befall her, and she soaks ‘em up, just like that mop.

Joy’s family are a dysfunctional nightmare. Her pill-popping mother (Virginia Madsen) watches soap operas all day in bed. Her grumpy father Rudy (Robert De Niro), has been dumped back at the dilapidated family home after yet another girlfriend has had enough of him. He now lives in the basement, along with Joy’s own ex-husband Tony (nicely played by Edgar Ramirez). Joy has to do everything, including looking after her two children and mending leaks.

In constantly deflating the inspirational arc of the rags to riches tale, I guess what Russell is going for is some kind of Cinderella story, a modern fairytale where the good-hearted, practically angelic Joy triumphs over the odds and sods while danger and betrayal continue to stalk her. I can’t think of another actress than Lawrence who could have made this bearable.

Russell’s tone veers and teeters as he tries to enliven the biopic, TV movie-of-the-week structure. It’s narrated by Joy’s grandma, Mimi, played by Dianne Ladd. The appearance of Isabella Rossellini as Rudy’s new wealthy girlfriend Trudy, hints at David Lynch in the casting, that maybe there’s something wild at heart going on.

In truth, the movie never gets out of its self-made curio box. It flashes back and forth, disappears into the TV soap operas (to remind us, as Woody Allen put it in Husbands and Wives, that “life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television”) and uses big musical moments to transition between scenes – even if I can’t complain about hearing Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder or the Bee Gee’s To Love Somebody.

Bradley Cooper has a nice turn too, as the QVC shopping channel boss Neil who spots a star – or at least a star product – in Joy and her mop and gives her a big break. “In America, the ordinary meets the extraordinary every day,” is his mantra, and that of the movie, although this director does like to skew things, make sure you know he’s in charge of the story, that we’re going to see things his quirky, obtuse way.

But with J-Law on such good form, it’s always enjoyable, often funny even while putting you through the wringer.

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