The Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell show rolls back into town with family drama Joy, an offbeat and quietly entertaining yarn about the rags-to-riches true story of Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop, and her crazy family.
In her third collaboration with Russell, Lawrence is very much in control of this film - if not her needy, narcissistic family. We meet Joy as a young girl; creative and inventive, she's encouraged by her much-loved grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) to make something of herself.
We then jump forward to discover Joy as a broke, divorced, despondent mother of two. Her nightclub-singing ex husband (Edgar Ramirez) lives in her basement and her TV soap opera-addicted mother (Virginia Madsen) in the sunroom. The house gets even more crowded when her father's (De Niro) latest lover "returns" him to her.
Joy's contemplation of how her life has come to this gives Russell an excuse to fill in Joy's backstory - going back to her wedding and the father-of-the-bride speech, in which her father gives the marriage a 50/50 chance of success.
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Back in the present, around 1995, Joy is inspired to design a self-wringing mop. She convinces her father's wealthy new girlfriend Trudy (Rossalini) to invest, which launches Joy and her family on a wild ride of ups and downs as she attempts to market her mop, including pitching the idea to an evangelistic shopping TV network executive, played by Bradley Cooper. We also jump forward, with Mimi our narrator telling us things Joy doesn't know will happen yet. While that's quite a lot of time travel, it's easy to follow, and livens up what is actually a conventional story of a woman overcoming adversity.
What does make Joy disjointed is the tonal difference in how she and her family are portrayed. While Joy's story is grounded in reality, her colourful, exaggerated family live in their own eccentric worlds, and it doesn't always gel.
There are great lines - De Niro, in particular, has a lot of fun - but Joy doesn't have the same energy or laughs as Russell's previous two comedy dramas Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. The family aren't just wacky, they're occasionally cruel, and every time something goes right for Joy, her family ensure something goes terribly wrong soon afterwards.
For all its unevenness and quirky dark humour, Jennifer Lawrence's performance is stellar, and it's no surprise she'd already been nominated for a Golden Globe as Joy. Gritty, restrained and genuine, she gives this offbeat take on the American Dream some much-needed heart and soul. Joy is worth seeing for Lawrence alone.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper
Director: David O. Russell
Running Time: 124 mins
Rating: M (Offensive language)
Verdict: A disjointed but well-acted drama