Sunday, December 27, 2015

Joy to the World

I really loved Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in The Silver Linings Playbook (2012, David O. Russell) and thought that was a fantastic movie, then later when I took notice of Annapurna Pictures and heard all of the buzz I went to American Hustle (2013, Russell) expecting a lot, which I felt it delivered. American Hustle also had a lot going for it because of Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner.


Joy (2015, Russell) is an inspiring (vaguely based) biopic written and directed by David O. Russell and also a Jennifer Lawrence vehicle, with a focused, linear plot about the story of a woman who invented a self-wringing mop, Joy Mangano. But really it's about having a dream, believing in yourself, having life shit on you, and overcoming failure after failure, everyone going against you, achieving success only to have it taken away from you by thieves, liars, parasites, and legal technicalities; but also the joy of family, and the freedom that comes from when hard work pays off. It's one of countless variations on the Horatio Alger myth.

This role works so well with Lawrence. She's best when getting an attitude with her family, sticking up for herself, and displaying the I'm actually smarter than anyone else in the room right now on given points she's become known for. She's young, attractive in the Hollywood no this is what a real girl looks like star way. She's a fighter. And, she's a reminder of the strong woman who puts up with more than she should have to when sacrificing herself for her loved ones in a painfully realistic way.

And Joy is rewarding in Lawrence's chance to take center stage after her supporting show stealing turns in The Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Bradley Cooper's role is relatively small. And the rest of the ensemble is alright, but Diane Ladd as MIMI shines as the great grandmother of JOY.

Joy is framed as a storybook fairytale with the young Joy playing with her white handmade paper model of something she created, that's done with her special power, and to be filled with amazing things she will create. And right away as the temporal jump cuts to the adult Joy it gets frustratingly, aggravatingly, it's time to empathize with this young woman because why does she have to do all of the domestic chores and support her ex-husband, again divorced father, lay in bed all day watching soaps mother, great grandmother and two kids, clear to us that she shouldn't, that something is going to happen. That's Hollywood fairytale foundation laying.

When Joy gets her mop idea and her father (Robert De Niro) is reluctant to help her, she does something for the first time: she asks him for help. The "I've always been there for you" plea gets us on board. She needs this mop to work. We need this mop to work.

Shot entirely on 35mm Kodak tungsten-balanced film, Joy has a strictly regimented color palette. White and blue. Seriously, it's like a game. Look for it. The opening scene in the snow, Joy wears a lot of white, her mother's white bedroom set, Joy's duet with her husband flashback, as it snows and she wears the white cloak, the white family sailboat ride on the blue sea, the all white product testing rooms, Joy's father's blue factory, the blue California factory, all of the  blue corporate offices she'll visit, and so many of the wardrobe choices. But the tungsten film is a factor because of the way daylight (usually from an exterior source spilling into the interiors) has that cool blue look. The QVC scene where Joy demos the mop is also color coded to match the black and white tiled set and yellow walls to Lawrence's black and white outfit and blonde hair.

Joy is a blue collar Joan of Arc. And while the second act is her fighting to invent her mop, the third act is an all out war to see it through to success. I love Joy. Maybe it's because there's nothing smug about her or this movie. Like when Joy tells her daughter, who'd been getting teased at school because her mom was selling used mops and a cleaning lady and Joy responds, "So what if I am a cleaning lady? There's no shame in hard work." Scenes like that make me feel like Joy isn't condescending, and it's even authentic in its emotional aim.

--Dregs

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