How was your holiday? I saw the new Jennifer Lawrence film, "Joy", which is loosely based on the life of inventor/entrepreneur Joy Mangano. I went with some of my college kids who have been home for the past couple of weeks. It's so fun hanging out with them, but I basically had to shutter the shop. Thus, the premise of the movie, about a beleaguered working mom, felt very relevant personally. Maybe it does for you too.
The film is horrible-wonderful. Reviews are fair to middling, with people saying that it's "okay". More accurately, I describe it as a teenager of a film. At times, it sparkles and other times, it causes baffling discomfort. It has identity issues that keep it from blossoming. I literally wanted to scream at the screen a couple of times, because the potential for greatness is there if not for some bad decision-making. In the end, you will come away from the film like you come away from most experiences with teenagers -- feeling both pissed off and full of hope. But enriched just the same.
Here is this week's listicle and let me know if you agree:
FOUR REASONS TO LOVE "JOY"
1. Jennifer Lawrence is a joy to behold as the title character. Remember her first film, Winter's Bone? She's got that interesting combination of fragility and grit here too. (Rent Winter's Bone now if you've never seen it. Read the book too!)
2. A powerful female supporting cast lifts this film -- in particular, Isabella Rossellini as the cruel stepmother who dares, taunts, threatens, and bullies with a crooked finger as a weapon. She would be a convincing Godfather in an all-female remake. Virginia Madsen, too, as the might-as-well-be-dead mother locked in an ivory tower of her own creation stays in character throughout every moment.
3. The cinematographer paints the film with beautiful nostalgic strokes of wide-angle overhead shots and swirling snowy landscapes. The soundtrack also earns kudos, as do the costumes and set design. The whole film is a sensory delight.
4. The director, David O. Russell, creates vivid metaphorical portraits of his heroine, and "Joy as gun-slinging cowgirl" really works well. Near the end, her showdown at the OK Corral and her subsequent ride off into the sunset will have you cheering in your seat.
FOUR REASONS TO HATE JOY
1. Like I said, David O. Russell loves his metaphors, but when he turns Joy into Cinderella, we seethe. Why? Why turn her into a princess? She has a bullying stepmother, a very nasty stepsister, a duplicitous father, a seemingly dead mother, and an ineffective grandmother/fairy godmother. Joy's adorable wide-eyed daughter is reminiscent of any four-legged animal typically shackled to all Disney princesses. Joy even marries a handsome prince who tries to rescue her but can't because he's drunk. So she rescues herself. Did Ms. Mangano approve the Cinderella treatment? She's an executive producer on the project and gave the director unprecedented access to her story, so we have to wonder.
2. There's some weird soap opera scenes that even Susan Lucci and her flawless face can't redeem. C'mon editor, do your job!
3. Bradley Cooper is meh. Not his best role.
4. The foray into Cinderella costs the film its soul. It takes up nearly one full hour as we wait and wait for the real story to begin. And when it does, we are mesmerized. Joy and her invention become as one. The mop's survival equates to Joy's survival, a gamble we all understand whether we're small business owners or not. The most suspenseful moment comes when Joy’s invention nearly dies at the hands of an inept QVC salesman who clearly hasn’t wielded a mop once in his entire male life.
This is an age-old story that I have lived. You have lived. My mother has lived. Every woman who has put her family’s needs ahead of her own has lived this story. We are not fairy princesses. We are real life ordinary Joe’s just trying to fit our own dreams and ambitions through the eye of a needle.
Bottom line: Ms. Mangano picked the wrong salesman to sell her mop.
Agree with my amateur critical analysis? Maybe you would like my review of The Goldfinch. Read that here.