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Joy movie review: Biopic starring Jennifer Lawrence wipes the floor with critics

This real-life tale of the inventor of the Miracle Mop is in safe hands thanks to the wonderful Lawrence, says Andrew Johnston

Published 01/01/2016

Star appeal: Jennifer Lawrence delivers another stellar turn in this compelling feature
Star appeal: Jennifer Lawrence delivers another stellar turn in this compelling feature

Joy reunites writer-director David O Russell with his Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle cast members Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper. Once again, the maverick filmmaker gets the very best out of his actors, but whether Joy repeats Russell's previous movies' awards success is debatable, judging by a critical response that has seen the biopic dubbed everything from "a mess" (USA Today) to "shockingly bad" (Vox).

Still, awards - and reviews - aren't everything, and certainly, the subject of Russell's tale has experienced her own share of knocks on the path to glory. Joy Mangano (Lawrence) is the inventor of the Miracle Mop, a self-wringing household implement that ultimately made her a millionaire, but not before she endured a catalogue of missteps, bad luck and legal woes, much of it wrought by the woman's own family.

In Joy, in Russell's trademark, breathless style, we are introduced to the Manganos in a barrage of cleverly edited sequences. Joy's mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), lies in bed all day, watching Eighties soap operas. Her father, Rudy (De Niro), is more interested in finding a new girlfriend than in maintaining his ailing car repair business. Her sister, Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), fluctuates between bitter and needy. And her broke ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez), still lives in the basement of the marital home, mindlessly pursuing his fading singing career.

Grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) is the only one who believes in our titular heroine, though even then, it's in a fuzzy, rather unhelpful way.

The situation is an almighty mess, but amazingly, most of the characters remain on the right side of likeable, even as they are undermining Joy's talents and ambition. Over and over, the hapless single mother's hopes are raised and dashed, almost threatening to turn Russell's film into a farce.

Eventually, through sheer, dogged perseverance, Joy lands a gig flogging her invention with shopping network QVC. Enter Cooper's beardy, pin-eyed television executive Neil Walker and a hint of romance.

Throughout, we're willing Joy to succeed, like a modern-day, mop-wielding Cinderella. Lawrence may be younger and more glamorous than the real Mangano, but she nails the role through force of personality and sheer acting talent. Around her, even greats such as De Niro and Isabella Rossellini (who plays Rudy's haughty, bean-counting new squeeze) are relegated to supporting players.

From indie drama (Winter's Bone) to horror (House at the End of the Street) to massive blockbusters (the X-Men and Hunger Games series), there seems to be nothing the talented and prolific 25-year-old can't do.

As a film, Joy is an odd prospect, alright - a capitalist fable that is heartwarming and even inspiring. But Russell has a knack for taking seemingly routine tales and drawing something magical out of them. In other hands, the likes of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle could have been lumpen fare, as might Joy. But Russell brings the story alive.

Joy is comical, even as everything is going wrong. It's dramatic, even with a kitchen appliance as its MacGuffin. And it's fascinating, even when mired in the business of patents and manufacturing.

Four stars

(12A, 124 mins) Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Bradley Cooper, Director: David O Russell

Belfast Telegraph

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