Watching David O. Russell’s Joy is akin to watching his career: abundant potential dribbling sadly away. The first half hour or so of the film, a biopic of Joy Mangano, Miracle Mop inventor (Jennifer Lawrence), takes the kind of stuff usually brushed over in these films – the anxieties of running household, familial tensions, financial strain – and makes it into a spiky, erratically enthralling introduction. Despite retaining O. Russell’s sub-screwball, coke-addled pacing, the film’s incorporation of stiff soap opera alongside Diane Ladd and Isabella Rossellini is more indebted to David Lynch than Scorsese or Hawks.
Shame about the rest of the film, though. The prominent soap opera stuff disappears without a thematic trace, Bradley Cooper snoozes his way through a minor role, and we settle into a familiar rags-to-riches storyline. Why all this time spent recreating soap operas if you’re going to abandon it entirely? You sense that maybe O. Russell is trying to emulate a gangster film – y’know, a “this is how you thrive in American business” type deal – but a hurried, uninspired ending and some achingly-awful dialogue sabotage that attempt. (At the end of the film, Cooper literally leans against a doorframe and drawls, “It’s been a long journey.”)