Joy is anything but joyful for the most part. Through the narration of her grandmother (Diane Ladd) it tells the almost relentlessly despair-ridden tale of Joy Mangano, divorced mother of two who clearly overcame some adversity (but not as much as the film suggests, surely?) to become one of America's most successful capitalist bastards. I mean entrepreuners.
She did this by inventing a self-rinsing mop with a cotton head that can be cleaned and re-used. Which mundanity is probably the reason why the storytellers decided to have so much go against Joy and to make so many of the people close to her such outstanding piss-hats. A divorced mother of two, Jennifer Lawrence's Joy pays the mortgage in a home which accomodates not only her and her children but also her dad played by Robert De Niro, her mum (Virginia Madsen) and her ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramiez). Her dad has already ruined her wedding day some years previously and goes on to bring preposterous greed-loving Trudy (Isabella Rosselini) into the house after meeting her on a dating website for widows and widowers. He's not even a widower but he has split from Joy's mother, who spends an unrealistic amount of time in her bedroom watching the same monstrously bad soap opera. Before Trudy, Joy's dad Rudy (I know...) shares the basement with Tony, with whom he gets along with about as well as Teddy Sheringham got on with Andy Cole. Half-sister Peggy (Elizabeth Rohm) pops up less frequently, but is no less contemptible.
Joy's life is perfectly awful, so it's understandable that she tries to find a way out through her invention. She was Valedictorian, which is American for the brightest pupil in her high school, and she puts those brain cells to good use designing her invention with her daughter's crayons. Which is really where the film starts to get bogged down in the legalities of patents and fraud and what-not. Despite attempts to make it dramatic it is hard to get past the fact that it's just a mop. Yes the stakes are high for Joy and even for the rhyming Rudy and Trudy as the triumphs and disasters come at them thick and fast, but it's still just a bloody mop. Perhaps Tony, a wannabe singer from Venezuela who to his credit is a much better friend to Joy than he was a husband, is the one who realises this first as his role is significantly and bafflingly reduced in the second half of the film.
The strength of Joy is in its performances. Lawrence is this writer's definition of watchable but despite that bias I don't think many would argue that she's not the best actress in film at the moment. She even makes you care about Joy, which is going some. It's just a mop, remember. Bradley Cooper delivers a brief but diverting turn as a high powered QVC executive, but despite their best efforts the trio of Lawrence, Bradley and De Niro can't get near the heights of their work in the cinematic gem that is Silver Linings Playbook. I fell asleep during American Hustle which also featured all three, but it was my love of Silver Linings Playbook that persuaded me that Joy might be another pleasant surprise.
It was not, but remained watchable if only for another stellar performance from Lawrence.