Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Rohm, Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, Maurice Benard, Donna Mills, Bradley Cooper, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Ken Howard, Ray de la Paz, John Enos, Marianne Leone, Melissa Rivers, Drena De Niro, Isabella Crovetti-Cramp
Written by: David O. Russell, based on a story by Annie Mumolo, David O. Russell
Directed by: David O. Russell
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 124
Date: 12/25/2015
IMDB

Joy (2015)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Top of the Mops

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Just as they once abandoned their other awards-season, go-to directors John Madden and Lasse Hallstrom, the Weinsteins seem to have abandoned their latest prodigy, David O. Russell. After wringing tons of Oscar nominations and other awards out of Russell's previous, so-so movies Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Russell's newest movie Joy -- which opened Christmas Day -- seems to be already evaporating from awards season like a stain on a polished kitchen floor.

Russell is known for a punchy, darkly comic sensibility, and an ability to raise screen tension to new heights based on several of those kinds of straws that eventually break the camel's back. Joy starts well, with scenes like that, but as it goes on for 124 minutes, it doesn't really appear to have much to say. Jennifer Lawrence is good in the lead role as Joy, though she's not as scene-stealingly good as she was in the previous two films. Her character is barely making ends meet, living with her lazy mother (a funny Virginia Madsen), a grandmother (Diane Ladd), an ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) and their two kids, and now her father Rudy (Robert De Niro) has moved in.

Joy begins to wonder about the ambitions she used to have in life and decides to invent a fancy self-wringing mop. Rudy's new girlfriend, the wealthy Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), becomes an investor, and thanks to an appearance on the new home shopping network (run by slick Bradley Cooper), she's able to sell a few. (This sequence is interesting for its behind-the-scenes look at that bizarre channel.) But, of course, there are other setbacks. The setbacks go on for a while, and so does an epilogue, and you start to wonder: "all this over a mop?"

Except for Madsen, whose character -- ironically -- doesn't leave her bed for most of the film, most of the characters seem thin, and whereas Russell gave them plenty to do in the previous two films, they don't seem to pop here. Some of them seem like cartoon characters, serving one purpose each. The "American Dream" concept of the movie is gutted, shown only in extremes. Either people take advantage of Joy, or Joy finds wells of fast-talking confidence to take back what's hers. (Apparently, this was once based on a true story, but has been so twisted into moviedom that it can no longer even credit real life.) American Dream or no, whatever magic Russell and the Weinsteins weaved for the last two movies, it seems to have run out.

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