Biopics have been around since the very beginning of filmmaking and in those dozens of intervening years little has changed in the way movies based on actual people are presented. True, in recent years there has been a shift to focusing on pivotal moments in a person’s life rather than their life as a whole, but for the most part, when real people are concerned, realism is of the utmost importance.
Then there’s Joy.
When David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook) and Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids) sat down to tell the story of the woman who created the Miracle Mop (and then an entire home shopping dynasty) reality was clearly not high on the list of priorities. And thats ok.
Entire sections of the film were presented like a stage play and the story flitted between metaphor-heavy dream sequences and dream-like realities to the point it because difficult to tell the difference between when Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) was dreaming and when she was awake. Walking out the of the theater, I didn’t feel like I had seen one scene that accurately reflected true events, but I walked out with the sense of what those events must have felt like to the people who lived them.
A title card at the beginning of the film states, “Inspired by the true stories of daring women. One in particular.” So no, this is not a blow-by -blow of Joy Mangano’s life. Instead, it is a fictional depiction of the very real struggles many women have faced trying to make their way in the world using a very basic outline of the real Joy Mangano’s life.
Such a loose interpretation of a biopic could easily fall apart if even one aspect of the story falters. And while some of the themes may be hit a littler harder than necessary at times, the performances, lead by Jennifer Lawrence, manage to keep everything running smoothly. In fact, this is Lawrence’s career best performance, keeping in mind that her career really took off a mere five years ago and she’s managed to rack up three Oscar nominations and one Oscar win within that time frame. But, while her previous collaborations with David O. Russell have yielded the most critical acclaim, Joy makes it clear that she can still command every scene while also carrying the movie.
Likewise, Robert Di Niro, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Elizabeth Röhm, Diane Ladd, and Édgar Ramírez provide a perfectly colorful backdrop of characters for Lawrence to play off of. The tone of Joy is a hard one to maintain and it is only through these talented performers that the movie manages it.
If you’ve read any other reviews of Joy, or checked its rating on sources like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, you may notice that this review stands out from the general consensus. I think a large part of that may be due to the mismanagement of the marketing for this movie. It’s been decided that Joy most closely resembles a biopic and that’s the only way they’ve advertised it.
If you go into Joy expecting to see a biopic in the way we’ve come to know them you will undoubtedly be disappointed. So don’t go into it expecting that. Don’t go into it expecting anything and then maybe, like me, you’ll simply be swept up in the fantastical, magical story of a woman who clawed her way into being heard and respected. [A-]
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