Oh David O. Russell, what happened? After his duo of knock-outs with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, he came out with American Hustle which was something a little more ambitious than the previous two and suffered for it. But now we come to Joy, the much-anticipated powerhouse performance from Jennifer Lawrence—and while it is that, it proves to be not much else either. What could have been a great triumph turns out to be a slow, muddled, and unimaginative look at one of the best characters to grace the screen this year.
If you have ever had any doubt in Jennifer Lawrence of an actress, this is just another reminder in a long line of great performances—blockbuster or not—from the young Oscar-winner. Put her in blue make-up, throw her into an arena, or have her play crazy—there is nothing Lawrence can’t do, and she’s so much fun to watch in whatever she is doing.
As Joy, she is strong-willed, creative, determined—everything any person should be. She works hard to make a living and to support her kids, and seldom asks for any sort of help. She gives everyone the same sort of respect she expects from others, and is quick to call them out when they don’t reciprocate. All of this can be readily seen throughout, but constant narration and dialogue praising her for her hard work almost undermines from her growth—it’s almost like Russell is saying “look, I made a strong lead female,” but Lawrence show this all on her own without any extra help.
From within the first 15 minutes it is apparent that the story is all over the place. Flashbacks inundate the opening moments, outlining a lot of exposition that isn’t entirely necessary. In a way there is no real “beginning” to the movie as it places us in the middle of a rather complex family and spends the first twenty minutes catching us up to how confusing it actually is.
You have Joy, her father (Robert De Niro), her mother (Virginia Madsen), her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez), her kid, and her friend (Dascha Polanco). The father moves from suitor to suitor, her mother lives with her and constantly watches television, and her ex is actually one of her closest friends. The cast is great, though, but their characters do not receive nowhere near the amount of attention that Joy receives—for obvious reasons—but it makes them end up as flat, despite being performed admirably by a solid group of actors. After 30 minutes of this, and some weird dream-like sequences, the movie finally gets going…but then it hits its emotional high all too quickly thereafter, which is what should have been the conclusion.
This leaves two-thirds of the movie following the aftermath of her big success as she navigates betrayal, her family, and more. The thing is, none of it is really that interesting—forgettable, even— as David O. Russell has packed it full of unnecessary moments that take away from the grand arc that Lawrence faces. Bradley Cooper shows up partway through and serves as mostly a means to advance the plot forward, though he is fun as always.
Jennifer Lawrence—and the rest of the cast for that matter—are as good as the movie is slow, boring, and at times completely confusing. Is Russell running out of steam? Perhaps. If this and American Hustle are any indicators, we might just be on for more disappointment from someone who was—just a few years ago—one of the freshest, most interesting directors to be watching.