Joy **

David O. Russell’s latest showcase for Jennifer Lawrence fails to recapture their previous magic.

Is it worth $10? No

After “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” any combination of writer/director David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper is cause for excitement, and that’s exactly what we have in “Joy.” You’ll walk into the theater rightfully eager for a sharp script, compelling drama, a few surprises, and some laughs.

And you’ll leave “Joy” having experienced just about none of the above.

Lawrence stars as the titular Joy, a single mother whose life circumstances have inhibited her personal growth. She lives with her mother (Virginia Madsen) and grandmother (Diane Ladd), and as the film begins her father (De Niro) breaks up with his girlfriend and decides to move into Joy’s basement, which happens to be where Joy’s ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) currently resides. Only Joy’s best friend from childhood, Jackie (Dascha Polanco), is a reliable confidante in the chaos that is her life. Flashbacks tell us Joy has always been smart and creative, but she’s never had a chance to make any of her dreams or ideas come true.

Until now.

Joy invents the “Miracle Mop,” a self-wringing and washable concoction that’s unlike any mop ever invented. She goes to her father’s new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), for financial help, but is unprepared for the hardships she will face in terms of concept design, production, intellectual property, etc. Multiple times she’s on the cusp of losing it all, and her family has a terrible way of showing support. To his credit Russell captures the plight of the small business owner well, including the pitfalls of startup headaches and getting bad advice.

The story is set in the 1980s, so when Bradley Cooper pops up as a QVC executive responsible for launching the network you get a good idea of how it’ll play out. There are some twists along the way, and you’ll root for Joy, but the frustration of her family – all of whom are one-dimensional personality types rather than full-fledged individuals – make it hard to invest in the story. You get the sense Joy can’t win with them, and worse, can’t get them out of her way.

Fantasy elements, such as Joy envisioning herself in a soap opera, and surreal moments, such as Joy’s mother suddenly in love with the Haitian plumber (Jimmy Jean-Louis), have a Wes Anderson-ish quirkiness about them but feel oddly out of place – they come across as weird for the sake of being weird, which adds nothing of value.

Per usual with Russell, the soundtrack is rife with pop hits and the writing is clever even if it doesn’t convincingly carry the narrative. Most of the actors are limited in what they can do with their characters, but De Niro steals more than one scene with great comic timing. It wouldn’t make sense to have more of this because its sole intention is comic relief, but thank goodness the scenes come when they do.

Still, where’s the flair? The panache? You keep waiting for “Joy” to ooze with style and tempo, to win us over with its zaniness while telling a thoroughly engaging, pressing drama. But it never happens. What we get instead are a few inspired performances (particularly from De Niro) and a half-baked story that lays flat on screen. Coming from such wonderfully talented filmmakers, this is a disappointment.

Did you know?
The film is loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, who created the Miracle Mop.

Cron Job Starts