"features a powerhouse performance by an actress at the top of her game and its period detail of the time accompanied with an excellent soundtrack lends the film emotional weight"

Director David O. Russell’s latest film Joy is another in a string of collaborations with the universally adored actress Jennifer Lawrence, whose soaring career shows no sign of slowing down. With Lawrence having won an Oscar for her performance in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, and nominated again the following year for American Hustle, there were big expectations for their newest venture. It’s a shame then that Joy doesn’t quite measure up, confused in its style choices and forgetting to flesh out any characters who aren’t blonde Oscar winners.

The film tells the story of American entrepreneur Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), who lived a true rags to riches tale. A divorced mother of two, she struggles against the traps of debt to bring her first invention of a self-wringing mop to life. Despite pitfalls and the cynicism of her father (Robert De Niro) and his Italian girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini), Joy manages to convince the representative of QVC (Bradley Cooper) to sell her mops on television, changing her fate forever.

Joy’s biggest asset is also its biggest problem. In other reviews of the film, much has already been said about Lawrence’s performance and that’s no surprise. She is fantastic, and with a face that can look both youthful and embattled at the same time, it’s not a stretch to believe her through an extensive passage of time. It’s impossible to watch this film and not be blown away by her ability.

However, a strong film needs more than that. Unlike in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, which featured other interesting characters and great performances around Lawrence’s star turn, this film neglects to give anyone else anything worth their time. For example, Bradley Cooper, another cohort of Russell’s and someone who has been heavily name-dropped in the film promotion, doesn’t turn up until well past halfway, and his character’s motives remain out of reach. Likewise with Rossellini’s character, whose unnerving few scenes feel oddly empty without any foundation. There’s no denying that Lawrence is capable of carrying a film on her own, but there’s no decent reason why she should have to.

Nevertheless, Russell’s newest movie does feature a great soundtrack and he continues to prove his ability at fusing music in a way that sweeps you into the emotion and drama of the scene. He also plays around with the use of a narrator, and creates a fantastic couple of early sequences where the futile soap dramas watched by Joy’s agoraphobic mother become visual nightmares for Joy, symbolising her tiny, frustrating world of drama. A visually vintage backstory sequence is also striking, yet these are all too fleeting or sporadic. As these creative techniques wash away, you’re left to wonder what would’ve happened had Russell truly persisted with them through the whole film.

Another artistic choice is also the decision to keep Joy surname-less throughout the film. Although Russell has been open about his cavalier attitude to the true story in the pursuit of a gripping film, I can’t help but feel for Joy Mangano, who deserves some better identification for the story of her life.

Despite that, it is clear that this was a conscious decision. The director is also keen to keep other certain characters without surnames, such as the insecure seller Todd who almost spells Joy’s downfall. On the other hand, Cooper’s successful businessman is often addressed by his full name and Joy’s father’s business bears his title. In Joy, Russell is undoubtedly making a point about the power of reputation, of who has power and the strength of a title.

Joy definitely is an enjoyable watch- it features a powerhouse performance by an actress at the top of her game and its period detail of the time accompanied with an excellent soundtrack lends the film emotional weight. Yet it’s a disappointment that the rest of the film, especially its supporting characters, just aren’t strong enough. Artistic techniques are used but they’re inconsistent, and although it sweeps you up in Joy’s emotional story, you feel like you’re only getting a glass half full. Unlike it’s stronger predecessor American Hustle, Joy is unlikely to make the same splash at the upcoming awards ceremonies. Hopefully with the next Russell-Lawrence collaboration, they open the floor to some other talents to get properly involved again.