Writer-director David O. Russell has firmly established himself as the master of quirky. Yet with “Joy” he almost out quirks himself. He reunites most of his “Silver Linings Playbook” cast with a full complement of new quirky stars. Jennifer Lawrence headlines them as the title character in this true story of a beleaguered young woman who rises from a daughter of dysfunction to a mother of invention.
It’s a terrific story of dogged determination that demands you trust it and stay with it through the chock full of crazy opening. Lawrence gives us another one of her trademark characters that requires her to act older and wiser than her years. She plays nursemaid to her divorced and childlike mother (Virginia Madsen) who stays in bed watching tapes of an overblown Susan Lucci soap opera. That soap opera sometimes pulls the other characters living in her asylum-like house into fantasy sequences. Those characters include her ex-husband who lives in the basement (Edgar Ramirez), her abrasive father who’s come to join him down there (Robert De Niro), and her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd).
Further intruding on Joy’s life is her older, jealous and superior minded half-sister (Elisabeth Rohm), her father’s brand-spanking new girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini), a French Creole plumber (Jimmy Jean-Louis) and finally Bradley Cooper as a businessman helming a fledgling new idea in the world of retail.
It’s initially hard to figure out where it’s all going. And it’s bogged down by Mimi’s completely unnecessary narration. Though she is the only member of the family to inspire and have faith in Joy, she is not a major character nor is the story told from her point of view. Yet just when it’s about to have you running away from it all, it’s also driven Joy to make a stand or flee time. And, as in all well scripted movies, everything that has happened has a purpose and shapes what follows.
You’ll likely start out wanting to throw things at the screen but will ultimately be cheering for the heroine. This is all Jennifer Lawrence’s movie and she handles it beautifully with a character that continually grows and surprises us. Madsen has a low-key moment of oddball hilarious brilliance while standing in a doorway with the plumber. And Ramirez brings a goofy charm and warmth to a character that will perhaps surprise you most of all. It’s not classic David O. Russell, but he still delivers an enjoyable time and a surprising biography.