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 the roles, forging lauded ensemble pieces that are often heaped with much-deserved praise.From Three Kings to The Fighter, O. Russell fought hard to break through and be noticed. 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.
It's telling that this Oscar-bait only secured a Nomination for Jennifer Lawrence, with the script and film itself going rightfully overlooked.
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. He doesn’t really play it for laughs either – although some of the events are so odd that they can’t help but generate laughter – 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.
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