David O. Russell brings Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper back together for a strange, almost-biopic of Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop.
What was O. Russell aiming for? It’s hard to tell. Great performances from Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro & Isabella Rossellini in particular create a compelling viewing experience, but the messy narrative & fluctuating tone produce 2 hours of bizarre screen time.
Joy struggles to hold life together with children to look after, an overbearing father & sister, a failed singer ex-husband living in her basement and a less-than-glamorous job as an airline booking clerk. Much dramatic license has been taken here, as very little seems to be known about the real Joy Mangano’s past.
Glimmers of an inventive streak surface in small moments where she has space to think, but are inevitably swallowed up by her many day-to-day responsibilities – until she stumbles across an idea so powerful & ingenious (we are told) that it finally breaks through the endless routine.
The perils of business follow, with Joy learning just how hard she has to push, how much she has to risk, and how often she has to trust people just to turn her vision into reality – let alone make money from it.
From this point the movie switches tone from a ‘kitchen sink to private jet’ biopic to more of a fairytale/fable, with Joy taking point as a determined heroine trying to escape the greedy clutches of various pantomime villains.
This is amplified by the portentous voiceover from her on-screen Grandmother (played by Diane Ladd), suddenly giving us a mix of internal monologue & narrative omniscience at apparently random moments in the plot.
There are some fascinating sequences, like Bradley Cooper’s Willy Wonka-esque tour behind the scenes of a shopping channel studio, and Joy’s mission to retain control of her patent in a mini-arc; but it’s hard to shake the feeling that as a whole, the movie is an overcooked meal.