Creativity Trumps Coherency
I am so torn about this film. Because I love David O. Russell. With the exception of Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell is, to me, the single most creative director in Hollywood right now. His last film, American Hustle, (we don't talk about his altar ego creating Accidental Love, which just might pop up on one of my lists) was number 3 on my best movies of 2013 list, and 2012's Silver Linings Playbook would've made it on my list for that year as well. But this film? This film is what happens when David O. Russell is given too much creative license. When he thinks he can cast someone as charismatic as Jennifer Lawrence and then ask us to believe she's down in the dumps and struggling to make ends meet. When he tries to cram three or four separate films into one. In short, Joy is a mess.
First off, let's talk about what this film does right. Because at several moments I was joyously reminded that David O. Russell is as great as he is. When Bradley Cooper first shows up and talks to Jennifer Lawrence about a 24 hour sale channel, this film works. Cooper and Lawrence work so well together, and there's an immense amount of tension as Lawrence prepares to deliver her first pitch on the network. And Jennifer Lawrence, despite the miscasting, is excellent! I mean she's always wonderful and Joy is no exception. The film also looks the part as Linus Sandgren, Russell's cinematographer from American Hustle, returns to make this film look gritty and dirty. Sadly, though, the rest of this 124 minute film is.....not so good.
Can a director really be penalized for being too creative? To be so creative that he loses coherency? That’s what happened to David O. Russell here with Joy. This film is an absolute and unfortunate misfire because of a totally incoherent plot. This film could never find its identity at any point during it, and as a result the film is all over the place from a tonal perspective. And when you can't find your identity, you can't create a theme, so basically what we got was 124 minutes of voiceovers, miscasts, and an attempt to tie up the entire plot in 10 minutes. Oh ya, did I mention the miscasts? Because Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Virginia Madsen all felt really out of place in this film. There's this attempt that's made on trying to put Jennifer Lawrence and De Niro and Madsen together in this really wacky and poor suburban family that just didn't work because....well because could you see that working? There's no real chemistry here, and while that may have been Russell's point, it doesn't excuse the fact that it doesn't work. This film could've really benefited from better casting choices here. After all do you really expect us to believe that Jennifer Lawrence got married and had two kids and still looks as young and beautiful as she does? Ya.....no. But it doesn't end there. The ending.....holy crap the ending sucks. Russell basically tries to tie up this entire two hour film in the span of 10 minutes. To say it feels rushed is an understatement. Now most of the time I'd say here that I wouldn't mind another 20 minutes of film when Russell is the director, but by this point in the film I could tell it was a misfire so I was kinda glad that it came to a screeching halt.
In the end, Joy is an example of what American Hustle or Silver Lining's Playbook could have been as we see David O. Russell become so creative that it defeats a coherent story. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest disappointments of the year, and while not a bad film by any means, when David O. Russell is directing....anything short of great is terrible. Now excuse me while I go cry myself to sleep over the thought of having to wait for an indefinite length of time until David O. Russell returns.
The Critique: One of the biggest disappointments of the year, Joy is a shining example of creativity trumping coherency. Not even Jennifer Lawrence can save this one.
The Recommendation: Just....don't. Don't become sad like me. Just don't.
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average