Monday, January 11, 2016

Joy (**)

Directed by David O. Russell


Jennifer Lawrence is doing incredible work in Joy but to what end? The film is an unconscionable mess, and works best if you try to think about it as a solid acting reel for the young Oscar-winner. You've got Robert DeNiro doing pedantic self-parody, Virginia Madsen playing a woman who hardly gets out of bed (and who watches soap operas that Russell's movie is entirely too interested in), and then Bradley Cooper arrives halfway through as a QVC executive who compares himself to Jack Warner and Darryl Zanuck. Director David O. Russell used to be as exciting as his peers Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher and Spike Jonze, but with Joy he's finally detached from reality and spun off into the sun. This is his third film with Jennifer Lawrence, and the relationship has gone from mutually beneficial to one-sided. He's helping the young movie star mature into a truly brilliant actor, and that Lawrence is able to capably deliver this performance as a single mother of two at the age of 25 shows that she's got some very, very exciting stuff in her future (hell, she has some pretty great stuff in her present already). But this is a lot of work and a lot of goodwill lost in the nurturing of a young talent. Most actors have to take those Dustin Hoffman masterclass acting courses on Facebook. Lawrence gets to hone her craft on a $60 million movie. The film is based on a script by Annie Mumolo (who wrote Bridesmaids with Kristen Wiig) about Joy Mangano, a housewife turned home shopping mega star. Russell, as per usual, took that script and hacked it up until it was his own, and he directs this movie like its about the rise of a crime family. He's always made his films messy, caring more about performance than about narrative, but now he's allowed a derivative cinematic style distract from what used to be much more confident directing choices. His filmmaking has become ugly and haphazard, and in Joy not even the acting comes off as exceptional outside of Lawrence. Russell has got to find a new muse before it's too late.

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