“Joy,” David O. Russell’s latest, is not an adaptation, though it would have benefited from being one. Based on the story of Joy Mangano, the real-life woman who invented the Miracle Mop and became a major entrepreneur on the QVC network, it is co-written by Annie Mumolo and Russell, who has said that he believes “strong women are the key to great cinema.” Certainly he puts his money where his mouth is. Even in his male-centric films like “The Fighter,” strong women run the show. But Mangano’s can-do spirit is somewhat muted by this muddle of a melodrama, which swings tonally between a Pedro Almodóvar-inflected telenovella, a 1990s update of “You Can’t Take It With You,” and a Preston Sturges comedy on a cutting-room floor. An antecedent memoir might have provided much-needed signposts.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Mangano, which goes a long way toward cutting through the fog. Not since Julia Roberts has Hollywood found itself such a bright light, and Lawrence comes with the added benefit of being a strong actress who, at the ripe old age of twenty-five, has already shed any fear of un-likeability; she seems to take more cues from 1940s screwball dames than her less self-possessed contemporaries. As Mangano, she channels the weary brassiness of a woman who’s been soldiering her family’s burdens since before she was an adult. She even speaks in the clipped tones of a Barbara Stanwyck or Irene Dunne. (No vocal fry for this millennial.) Continue Reading →