In telling the story of the woman who invented the Miracle Mop, director-writer David O. Russell, who co-wrote the story with Annie Mumolo, gets off to a wobbly start, builds to a wonderfully satirical middle and ends with a whimper. So, should you see Joy? I’d give it a shot. The invigorating talent of the man behind The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle still shines, even in this uneven muddle.
And did I mention that Jennifer Lawrence is the star? The 25-year-old supernova again proves she can do anything, moving from comic to tragic without missing a beat. Her job isn’t easy. Russell has fictionalized the life of Joy Mangano, the Long Island mother whose design for the self-wringing mop made her millions. Russell sees her as Everywoman, a paragon who spends four decades fighting her way out of the male shadow. Joy’s dad (a splendidly obtuse Robert De Niro) doesn’t believe in her, though he lives in her basement with her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) while her mom (Virginia Madsen) stays in the upstairs bedroom glued to TV soaps that Russell parodies to scant effect. This despite the presence of such daytime luminaries as Susan Lucci and Maurice Benard. The film is narrated by Joy’s proud grandmother (Diane Ladd), which only further gilds the lily of Joy’s unceasing virtue.
The film catches fire when Joy borrows seed money from dad’s stingy new lady (the ever-marvelous Isabella Rossellini), which leads to a QVC exec (a fine, focused Bradley Cooper) putting her on the air to sell her mop and herself. It’s brings out the best in Russell and Lawrence to show Joy fighting to retain her humor and humanity in a world of crass commercialism. But there’s no teeth in Russell’s bite this time. His admiration for Joy has blurred his vision. And he lets the climactic scenes of empire building drown the film in a sea of clichés. Sadly, Russell’s movie is not a joy forever. Happily, Lawrence is.