Watching Joy

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By Larry RatliffGetting Reel - photo

Watching Joy, the mesmerizing dysfunctional family drama-with-comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper, this thought kept running through my mind:

“Is there anything Jennifer Lawrence can’t do?”

The answer is apparently not, at least on a movie screen.  Lawrence is already a three-time Academy Award nominee and a best actress winner for her performance as a troubled young woman in Silver Linings Playbook in 2012.  The 25-year-old actress takes center stage in this based-on-real-life saga of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano.

Lawrence returns to the Oscar hunt with the same grim determination she displayed so well in Winter’s Bone, her gritty breakout film of 2010.

Much of the movie-going world knows Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, the steely eyed champion of the common people in the Hunger Games fantasy action franchise.  It is Lawrence’s ability to alternate between mass appeal projects and meaty acting challenges like Joy that could keep Lawrence on top for the long run; a la Sandra Bullock or even Meryl Streep.

At first I was slightly thrown off by the way director/co-screenwriter David O. Russell opens this film with a darkly comic spoof of a TV soap opera that serves as the bizarre Greek Chorus in this riveting four-generational biography.

Joy is a 1980s young single New York mom so blitzed by the loser cards life has dealt her that she barely reacts when her divorced dad (De Niro) moves into her basement after yet another failed relationship.  Joy’s ex Tony (Edgar Ramirez), a lounge singer with dreams of becoming the next Tom Jones, is already living down there.  His words of welcome to his former father-in-law:  “You touch my microphone and I will kill you.”

Even though Joy appears stunned by her struggles, Lawrence is skilled enough to show through her eyes that no matter how tough life gets, she will eventually take charge.

De Niro is also magnificent as Rudy, a father with anger issues and no rudder to navigate his own stormy life waters.  Bradley plays it low-key as the QVC television exec who sees the value in Joy’s revolutionary mop, taking a backseat to his leading lady.  That was not the case with Silver Linings Playbook, also directed by Russell.

Joy (Rated PG-13), though a tough emotional ride, is 126 minutes well spent.  On my scale of 1-to-4 jalapeños, it earns an outstanding 3½.

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About Author

Public speaker, humorist and award-winning film critic Larry Ratliff is called “The Jalapeño Guy” because he rates movies on a scale of one-to-four jalapeños. Ratliff writes for and maintains his popular website, LarryRatliff.com, and writes a movie column for The Senior Voice newspaper titled Getting Reel. He also lectures about the magic of movies and life with his Movie Memories with Larry Ratliff classic film presentation series. During 2009 Ratliff wrote celebrity interview features for the statewide Texas magazine ENVY. In 2009 and 2010, he served as the film critic for People Newspapers of Dallas. From January 1996 until January 2009, Ratliff served as film critic and movie feature writer for the San Antonio Express-News newspaper. He also wrote several lifestyle columns for the Dallas Morning News in 2002 and 2003. For over three years, Ratliff's movie reviews and interviews were syndicated nationally and internationally to 210 NBC network TV affiliates in the United States and to 15 foreign countries. Ratliff's comments have been quoted in movie ads in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, as well as in other newspapers nationwide. His comments have also appeared on video boxes across the United States and beyond. Ratliff was a founding, charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Ratliff has covered the Academy Awards on several occasions; twice for newspapers and once reporting live for NBC to over 40 network TV affiliates across the United States. A professional film critic since 1983, Ratliff grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth-area city of Grand Prairie. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas. He holds a BA degree in Speech with an emphasis on radio, TV and film with a minor in journalism. Early in his career, Ratliff worked as a radio disc jockey, a radio and TV news reporter and anchorman and as a stand-up comedian and comedy writer. Along with Suellen, Larry’s wife and muse, Ratliff founded Radio Free Ratliff, a daily radio feature of movie and video reviews, previews and interviews that was syndicated to radio stations in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Larry has a passion for good movies and the power of written and spoken words.

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