What shall we do with the endearing mess that is David O. Russell's not-quite-biopic of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano, turned into a rags-to-riches story of a true-life suburban Cinderella? Well, first of all, we should compliment Mr. Russell's chosen lead, Jennifer Lawrence, whose no-holds-barred yet intensely well-judged performance as Joy single-handedly holds together the film.
As always wise beyond her years, Ms. Lawrence is absolutely great as the working-class girl that fights the odds every step of the way, even when they seem to be insurmountable - or especially when they're so. Also, the actress effectively makes minced meat of the stellar cast the director has surrounded her with, though in all honesty that's also because hers seems to be the only truly rounded character in the entire film. Everybody else, from Robert de Niro's ineffectual father to Bradley Cooper's guest turn as a kinda sorta Prince Charming, from Isabella Rossellini's half-bored stepmother to Diane Ladd's spectral grandmother, is playing at archetypes rather than at real people.
Joy is consistently aiming at a sense of transcendence and achievement, the American Dream of success through grit and hard work, while literally tearing that dream away from Joy at every turn of the road only for her to get up and snatch it back. But each of those turns also sees Mr. Russell veer somewhat mystifyingly from tone to tone - off-centre romantic comedy, amped-up satire, eccentric family portrait, maximalist melodrama, old-fashioned woman's picture, business drama, in a non-stop roulette of possibilities that are never truly decided upon. No wonder that Joy never truly coalesces into one great whole, despite the great individual contributions: its director's trademark has always been frat-house maximalism, continuously piling stuff on until the films can't take any more and either collapse from the weight or soar away from it all.
In Joy, it's clear the Cinderella story at its heart will eventually collapse, but while this is the messiest of the director's films since The Fighter returned him to A-list status, it also has a depth and a sincerity that makes it feel more like "one for himself" rather than a mere careerist move. There's a lot of things Joy could use, but that somehow makes it more endearing than it had any right to be.
US, 2015, 124 minutes
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Edgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Rohm, Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, Maurice Benard, Donna Mills, Bradley Cooper
Directed and written by David O. Russell; based on a story by Annie Mumolo and Mr. Russell; cinematography Linus Sandgren; music by West Dylan Thordson and David Campbell; production designer Judy Becker; costume designer Michael Wilkinson; film editors Jay Cassidy, Alan Baumgarten, Christopher Tellefsen and Tom Cross; produced by John Davis, Ken Mok, Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon and Mr. Russell; a Davis Entertainment Group /10 By 10 Entertainment production, presented by Fox 2000 Pictures in association with Annapurna Pictures and TSG Entertainment
Screened December 29th 2015, UCI El Corte Inglés 12, Lisbon