The use of music is always notable in David O. Russell films, and Joy, which opens Christmas Day, is no exception.
“There are songs here I have been waiting almost 40 years to use in a movie, from ‘Aguas de Marzo,’ Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘I Want to Be Happy,’ Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody,’ to the rare Nat King Cole ‘A House With Love In It,’ with his singular spoken radio introduction to the song,” said Russell in a press statement, singling out Cream’s “I Feel Free.”
The 1966 hit for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame trio is marked by a partly sung, partly hummed a cappella opening by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton, which at the film’s end becomes a new recording made for the film by Brittany Howard of The Alabama Shakes, per Russell, “amazingly overdubbed with her incomparable voice.”
“We did a band [Alabama Shakes] and an a cappella version and weren’t quite sure how to use it, and then David chose to use the a cappella version at the end instead of the band one—which only appears on the soundtrack album,” says music supervisor Susan Jacobs, who previously filled that role on Russell’s American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook.
“We made a homemade version produced by Blake Mills [who also contributed to the score by West Dylan Thordson and David Campbell],” adds Jacobs. “It’s all about attitude. Brittany’s version is at the end of the movie, where Jennifer [Lawrence, in the heroic title role of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano] is walking out victoriously.”
Cream’s version, she notes, is used at the beginning of the film. “We realized that we could actually use more of the song,” she explains.
Having worked now with Russell for several years, she observes how he always uses music “in a really different way.”
“Working with him is such a mixture,” she says. “A big highlight in Joy is these really cool old soap opera score things that play throughout the film, and the songs by Edgar Ramirez, who plays [Joy’s divorced husband] Tony and had never sung before. David handed him off to me and said ‘good luck,’ and he used my office as a home base from the minute he got hired and learned to sing in it with a vocal coach. He worked really hard and ended up doing a really good job.”
Ramirez sings the Three Dog Night hit “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” backed by Latin jazz mainstays Ray de la Paz and The Pedrito Martinez Group. He also sings Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Aguas De Marzo,” and duets with Lawrence on the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet classic “Something Stupid.”
Jacobs also cites Allen Toussaint’s soundtrack entry, “Baby, Baby I Love You” (sung by New Orleans soul singer Willie West), timely in that the New Orleans legend died last month. Russell also mentioned “the privilege of making a simple quiet piano version of Springsteen’s soulful melody ‘Racing In the Street,’ and the singing of collaborators Jennifer and Edgar, [which] are what make a movie magical to me, and why I love going to the movies and listening to their soundtracks. Our score by West, David, and Blake is at the heart of the picture.”
“There are so many different colors,” says Jacobs, further noting music from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella used in flashback scenes of Joy playing with her paper house. “We wanted something more gravitas than a children’s record. But there’s lots of fun stuff and great stuff. Nothing feels like ‘score.’”
Jacobs’ current endeavors, meanwhile, include working closely with composer Thordson, who also scored the HBO series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst and contributed to the score of the 2014 sports drama film Foxcatcher.
The Joy soundtrack is available now digitally via ABKCO Records, with physical CDs out Jan. 8.
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