Skip to main content

You were born to be the unanxious presence in the room.

Joy
(2015)

(SPOILERS) The one where the magical formula that was working so well for David O Russell, since he stopped making distinctive movies and instead ploughed a furrow of awards-friendly ones (which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy most of them to a degree, but pushing any kind of envelope apart from the one containing his big fat fee they were not), ran dry. Joy’s a compendium of everything Russell assumed was right with his picture going wrong, from eager stars on tap, to air-punching emotionally-uplifting plot twists, to blindingly obvious soundtrack choices.


This very loose account of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano (so much so, her surname isn’t referenced) charters a divergent course in order that Russell can wing it with his medley of favourite moves. But the result is an unwieldy mess. His unbeatable run with Jennifer Lawrence (as Joy) runs aground fairly decisively. She’s decent, strong even, on a scene-by-scene basis, but utterly fails to convey a believable character. In part this is because Russell utterly fails to convey a believable world around her, but it’s also because, more unforgivingly than in their previous collaborations, she’s just too damn young for the part. There’s a point here where, no matter how talented she is (and I do think she’s talented), she’s just plain unconvincing as a thirtysomething mother and all-round family can-do-er, standing up to umpteen obstacles in her path. That’s just the most glaring of numerous problems, though.


Such as, you wonder just what Russell is trying to achieve, because if it’s in the service of the rewards garlanded for (female) aspiration, dedication and persistence in the face of the odds, reducing that achievement to an ill-formed final five minutes seems straight-up peculiar. Everything Joy does involves a rebound of pain and anguish, all of it crudely signposted in advance, and it feels almost as if this Russell’s token gesture towards the non-mainstream filmmaker he once was, wrapped in a sugar-coated bow; it’s that cynical.


The picture kicks off as an annoying two-dimensional character tour de force, going for the heightened and cartoonish in a way the writer-director can’t pull off (he isn’t a Burton or a Jeunet). And so, the parades of motley family members, their quirks and obsessions, is merely irritating. The blending of fantasy and reality (Joy imagines herself in the soap opera her mother obsesses over) flat out stinks (yet this is the guy who played with reality so deliriously in I Heart Huckabees).


Admittedly, it’s interesting to see Virginia Madsen playing something different (although Russell can only offer her clichéd subplots, such as an attraction to a Haitian plumber), and Elisabeth Rohm is absolutely full-on as Joy’s bitchy half-sister. But Robert De Niro crashes and burns so badly in an “Is he even awake?” half-embalmed performance, you can only assume Russell keeps using him because of some presumed kudos still attached to the name.


This is what you get when a director thinks he can do no wrong. And it’s pretty difficult to root for said filmmaker when he’s still up to the kind of bastardly behaviour he subjected Lilly Tomlin to a decade ago (only this time with Amy Adams). Joy’s punctured balloon feels like hubris well met. The picture does, momentarily, begin to find a foothold when Bradley Cooper enters the scene as a QVC director who becomes Joy’s salvation (even he has to be a stinker to her to get to that point, though; the whole thing is so calculated, at a certain point the tribulations no longer have any weight; oh look, grandma – ghostly narrator Diane Ladd, who instilled in her that achiever-ethos, the angel – is dead, cue some grieving).


After that, the plot dissembles into further family traumas for Joy; even the payoff of her putting paid to her fraudulent manufacturer lacks the oomph it should. She loves her family unconditionally, but the picture never really shows her standing up to them the way she should; indeed, the coda suggests that, far from being an aspirational figure, she’s a pushover, funding their failed schemes and getting sued by her malignant father (De Niro now even more ridiculous in old age make up than his earlier computer-assisted de-aging) for ownership of the mop.


It’s almost as if Russell thinks he can fashion a hit by selecting a true life story from any magazine article he’s handed, simply by pasting in vague platitudes about perseverance and self-belief (perhaps we could all achieve the American Dream if it weren’t so plagued by ne’er do wells?) Accordingly, he appears to have stuffed as much emotional banality into Joy as possible, hoping it would leaven into some kind of sense in the edit. Instead, the tonal and thematic mishmash merely results in exasperation.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

And you people, you’re all astronauts... on some kind of star trek.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
(SPOILERS) Star Trek: First Contact (also known as plain First Contact, back when “Star Trek” in the title wasn’t necessarily a selling point to the great unwashed. Or should that be great washed?) is probably about as good as a ST:TNG movie could be, in as much as it actively rejects much of what made the TV series what it is: starchy, placid, smug, platitudinous exchanges about how evolved humanity has become in the 25th century. Yeah, there’s a fair bit of that here too, but it mainly recognises that what made the series good, when it was good, was dense, time travel plotting and Borg. Mostly Borg. Until Borg became, like any golden egg, overcooked. Oh, and there’s that other hallowed element of the seven seasons, the goddam holodeck, but the less said about that the better. Well, maybe a paragraph. First Contact is a solid movie, though, overcoming its inherent limitations to make it, by some distance, the best of the four big screen outings with Pic…

I fear I’ve snapped his Gregory.

Twin Peaks 3.14: We are like the Dreamer.
(SPOILERS) In an episode as consistently dazzling as this, piling incident upon incident and joining the dots to the extent it does, you almost begin to wonder if Lynch is making too much sense. There’s a notable upping of the pace in We are like the Dreamer, such that Chad’s apprehension is almost incidental, and if the convergence at Jack Rabbit’s Tower didn’t bring the FBI in with it, their alignment with Dougie Coop can be only just around the corner.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

You've already met Judy.

Twin Peaks 3.15: There’s some fear in letting go.
Just two episodes ago, Big Ed was nursing a solitary late night cup-a-soup and looking as if nothing could ever come right. And even here, it seems as if, having finally been finally let off the leash by Nadine, he’ll be reduced to a coffee and cyanide. So the reparatory hand on his shoulder, signalling Norma is ready to be there with him for evermore, seems too good to be true. I’m wary that Lynch and Frost won’t just pull the rug from under them, and how long Nadine, who thanks to Dr Amp shows no fear in letting go, will remain in her golden, shovelled-up state.

I particularly enjoyed Wendy Robie’s delivery of “But I’ve been a SELFISH BITCH to you all these years”, and several of the characters here – Nadine, Big Ed, Hawk – are proving much more effective in this second wind of the series than they ever did first time round. Michael Horse has a great face for stoic rumination now. But not a horse face. 

Hawk’s phone conversations – I …

Don’t get tipsy. We can’t have you hiccoughing in the coffin.

The Avengers 4.2: The Murder Market
Tony Williamson’s first teleplay for the series picks up where Brian Clemens left off and then some, with murderous goings-on around marriage-making outfit Togetherness Inc (“Where there is always a happy ending”). Peter Graham Scott, in his first of four directing credits, sets out a winning stall where cartoonishness and stylisation are the order of the day. As is the essential absurdity of the English gentleman, with Steed’s impeccable credentials called on to illustrious effect not seen since The Charmers.

Cool. FaceTime without a phone.

Sense8 Season One
(SPOILERS) The Wachowskis do like their big ideas, but all too often their boldness and penchant for hyper-realism drowns out all subtlety. Their aspirations may rarely exceed their technical acumen, but regularly eclipse their narrative skills. And with J Michael Straczynski on board, whose Babylon 5 was marked out by ahead-of-its-time arc plotting but frequently abysmal dialogue, it’s no wonder Sense8 is as frequently clumsy in the telling as it is arresting in terms of spectacle.

I frequently had the feeling that Sense8 was playing into their less self-aware critical faculties, the ones that produced The Matrix Reloaded rave rather than the beautifully modulated Cloud Atlas. Sense8 looks more like the latter on paper: interconnecting lives and storylines meshing to imbue a greater meaning. The truth is, however, their series possesses the slenderest of central plotlines. It’s there for the siblings to hang a collection of cool ideas, set pieces, themes and fascina…

How dare you shush a shushing!

Home (2015)
(SPOILERS) Every so often, DreamWorks Animation offer a surprise, or they at least attempt to buck their usual formulaic approach. Mr. Peabody & Sherman surprised with how sharp and witty it was, fuelled by a plot that didn’t yield to dumbing down, and Rise of the Guardians, for all that its failings, at least tried something different. When such impulses lead to commercial disappointment, it only encourages the studio to play things ever safer, be that with more Madagascars or Croods. Somewhere in Home is the germ of a decent Douglas Adams knock-off, but it would rather settle on cheap morals, trite messages about friendship and acceptance and a succession of fluffy dance anthems: an exercise in thoroughly varnished vacuity.

Those dance anthems come (mostly) courtesy of songstress Rhianna, who also voices teenager Tip, and I’m sure Jeffrey Katzenberg fully appreciated what a box office boon it would be to have her on board. The effect is cumulatively nauseating though, l…

This is hell, and I’m going to give you the guided tour.

Lock Up (1989)
Sylvester Stallone’s career was entering its first period of significant decline when Lock Up was flushed out at the tail end of his most celebrated decade. His resumé since Rocky includes a fair selection of flops, but he was never far from a return to the ring. Added to that, his star power had been considerably buoyed by a second major franchise in the form of John Rambo. For a significant chunk of the ‘80s he was unbeatable, and it’s this cachet (and foreign receipts) that has enable him to maintained his wattage through subsequent periods of severe drought. Lock Up came the same year as another Stallone prison flick, Tango & Cash, in which the actor discovered both his funny guy chops (resulting in an ill-advised but mercifully brief lurch in to full-blown comedy) and made a late stage bid to get in on the buddy cop movie formula (perhaps ego prevented him trying it before?) The difference between the two is vast. One is a funny, over-the-top, self-consciously bo…