Joy (2015)

(On Cable TV, October 2016) I thought I’d like Joy more than I did. I may not like director David O. Russell’s penchant for re-using the same actors and relying on improvisational acting rather than structured plotting, but he can usually be counted upon for solid enjoyable films, as well as a few moments de cinéma in-between the more prosaic material. At times, Joy certainly plays to his strengths. As an inspirational story of a woman who rediscovers a talent for invention and takes herself from misery to success, it’s the kind of film that ought to work in most circumstances. At time, various snippets of the film make fantastic vignettes. The scatter-shot nature of the first’s first half is held together by a willingness to blur reality with soap operas, whereas the story takes a marked turn for the better midway through as our protagonist is introduced to the world of shopping via TV networks. But other things work against the film: If you’re not as much of a Jennifer Lawrence fan as Russell appears to be, then it won’t be as effective. What’s worse is the film’s surprisingly blunt messaging about pursuing dreams and being inventive: By the third or fourth time the film beat the same message over and over again, Joy becomes actively irritating about its own themes. It’s surprising to see a veteran director like Russell bump up against this kind of on-the-nose scripting—it certainly undermines the rest of the film. By the time the protagonist has a final face-off with business enemies and ex-partners, Joy feels more exhausting than anything else. Despite the good actors and the feel-good message, Joy feels too leaden and too initially unfocused to be as good as it could be.

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