The pursuit of... Joy.
David O. Russell’s at-times comedy-of-errors-like dramedy, Joy, paints a surreal fairytale-esque portrait of the real-life entrepreneur, replete with pantomime caricatures.Writer/Director O. Russell undoubtedly brings the best out of his performers, having secured Oscar nominations for most of his main cast members, with his trio of regulars – Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper – doing some of their, recent, best work for the director (which, at least for De Niro, mark high points in a rather flat part of his otherwise celebrated career). He clearly challenges the players, and gets them to embrace their roles, forging lauded ensemble pieces that are often heaped with much-deserved praise. With American Hustle, though, it felt like the cracks were showing in his work, delivering a shining star of a movie for the Oscar committee which, for some, felt like it actually had nothing substantial beneath the surface. It’s a great shame as, if you step one film further back and look at his earlier collaboration with his core trio – Silver Linings Playbook – you find a far more personal, involving piece rich with emotion and substance.Unfortunately Joy is more Hustle than Playbook in this respect, telling a patently biographical story of a real-life inventor and businesswoman who struggles to become a success whilst almost everybody around her tries (often even absent of malice) to bring her down. It’s a heart-breaking, heart-warming drama which – if played straight – may have worked, but would have likely ended up feeling quite familiar. For better or worse, O. Russell doesn’t play it straight. Thankfully he doesn’t really play it for outright laughs either but instead plays the whole thing in a very theatrical, pantomime way, complete with conniving villains, wicked step-sister, scheming step-mum, and helpless, hapless dad. Thus, with character often eschewed in favour of caricature, whilst the performances are strong, it’s really only Lawrence who maintains your interest in the plight of this strong young woman, with O. Russell’s near-whimsical style often undoing the cast’s work.
Picture QualityAs filmic in grainy texture as any O. Russell piece, Joy still looks impressive.
Fox's Region Free UK Blu-ray of Joy, hitting our shores a few days before its US counterpart, promotes the film with a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. Detail is impressive beneath the rich, textured pervasive grain, highlighting the intricacies of the faces (even those which are commendably made to look younger - some impressive work, for the most part, at least for De Niro) and the nuances of the bleak setting. The colour scheme similarly plays to this setting, restricted by weather and period observation, but rich nonetheless, remaining strong right up to and including the deep blacks that allow for decent darker sequences and solid shadow detail with few - if any - signs of overt banding and crush. It's far from immaculate, but it's frequently impressive, hard-to-fault work nonetheless.
Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is technically proficient but undone by rather whimsical material.
Indeed for the entire first act, it's hard to tell quite what the score is trying to tell us - is this a comedy, a satire or an outright farce? After a while it's easy to settle on pantomine, but more because of the caricatures on offer, with the score soon drifting into painfully numbing muzak that would have been better placed in an elevator. It's a shame because, on a technical level, the track does well, disseminating the score with priority and insistence (as if it were an integral, informing, part of the proceedings) whilst leaving dialogue keenly prioritised across the fronts and centre channels. Effects are well-observed, picking up on factory noises, crowded-house hubbub, and street traffic with precision, and allowing for the surrounds to have some decent material to keep the track active and, even with light work for the LFE channel to undertake, this is still a technically proficient track undone only by the material it peddles.
ExtrasThe Blu-ray release isn't exactly brimming with extras, with the Featurette Joy, Strength and Perseverance playing support to the headlining, and far more interesting Interview-based, Times Talk with Jennifer Lawrence, David O. Russell and Maureen Dowd. The disc is rounded off with a Stills Gallery.
Blu-ray VerdictOverly familiar in design, cloyingly whimsical in style, and peppered with caricatures instead of characters, you'll likely only watch this for Lawrence's compelling lead.
Still, for those invested in it, the Region Free Blu-ray release - ahead of its US counterpart - provides impressive video, solid audio and a small selection of extras, and makes for a decent enough purchase. Those otherwise merely intrigued should probably consider a rental first; whilst O. Russell may bring the best out of his cast, it's far from his best work.
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