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.