Movie Review : Joy (2015)
The universe has a love/hate relationship with movie director David O. Russell. He's too talented not to be successful and his volatile personality always manage to threaten his success in one way or another. What I'm trying to say here is that Russell is a weird and seemingly abusive person who sometimes makes good movies. I sure enjoyed The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook like half the people on Earth, although my reasons might've differed from other people. While I haven't seen American Hustle yet, it seemed like David O. Russell found a loophole which allowed him to create intelligent but predictable movies with mass appeal that would forever cement his legacy. Then I watched Joy and found out I was wrong. Oh, so wrong. Russell's legacy is pretty much up in the air again.
So, Joy is essentially a biopic. Joy Mangano is the iconic American inventor and businesswoman who created the miracle mop and many other great products. She has a cool, somewhat typical rags-to-riches of going from housewife to CEO in less than a decade. Joy is only LOOSELY based on her life, though and the term might be kind. The story is essentially the same, yet this Joy (played by superstar Jennifer Lawrence of all people) is a frustrated visionary, alienated by her dysfunctional family and sabotaged by just every unfortunate occurrence possible. I'm not kidding here: it goes from jealous sister to corporate espionage, which did not REALLY happen to Mangano. Being a smart and persevering woman in a David O. Russell movie always pays off, though and it sure as hell does in Joy.
Joy is a self-indulgent piece of shit, but it may not be obvious if you're not familiar with David O. Russell's movies. See, there's a formula to Russell's revival era movies. It has to feature flawed but soulful female protagonists (preferably played by Jennifer Lawrence), have a latent romance, show a lot of family bickering, have a quiet suburban setting and an atmosphere of overall normalcy, like it could happen in your neighborhood. The David O. Russell recipe is systematically applied without second thought here. He desperately bends and twists Joy Mangano's story to make it fit HIS narrative, HIS vision and the result is choppy and awkward. There is this long, embarrassing scene where Joy freezes in front of the camera during her first live infomercial. This NEVER happened. She was awesome in front of the camera. This tug of war between Mangano's story and broad, formulaic Hollywood drama is constant in Joy. It's SO formulaic, it ends up parodying David O. Russell's own formula.
The main problem with Joy is Jennifer Lawrence. Don't get me wrong, she's a superstar talent and I usually love her movies but she is fetishized beyond belief by creep-oh David O. Russell and it gets in the way. Certain men feel entitled to wallow in their psychosexual fantasies because they encourage progressive ideas and strong archetypes and this is definitely the case here. Jennifer Lawrence goes from uniform-wearing, sexless mother to gun toting, leather-clad, shades wearing badass. It has nothing to do with Joy Mangano's story and everything to do with gradually sexualizing Jennifer Lawrence on screen. It gets quite gratuitous towards the end. I am convinced the sole reason why this movie was done is that Jennifer Lawrence and leather-wearing pseudo-outlaw women turn David O. Russell on. I can't find any justifiable reason why the bullshit industrial espionage subplot was added at the end aside from filming Lawrence get handcuffed.
David O. Russell has no plans to shoot another movie in the foreseeable future and I believe Joy is, at least, partly responsible for that. This movie is an embarrassment for everyone involved, but especially for Jennifer Lawrence, who gets objectified in the most perverse possible way. I mean, even Joy Mangano has more to gain from such a subversion of her story. It makes her legacy larger than life. Cooler than it was meant to be in the first place. David O. Russell had a good thing going for a couple years, but he just HAD to take it too far. I don't think you should watch Joy for entertainment purposes, but it's a good example of how sexism still has a sneaky stranglehold over mass entertainment and that it can hide under progressive ideals sometimes. I thought Joy was a disgusting piece of shit, but it does serve a purpose and should live forever in infamy.