‘Joy’ doesn’t clean up well, de­spite Lawrence

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

The mar­ket­ing cam­paign for the new David O. Rus­sell film “Joy,” star­ring Jen­nifer Lawrence, has been ex­tremely ner­vous about bring­ing down the party with the word “mop.” Mops tra­di­tion­ally do not sell at the mul­ti­plex. Mops tra­di­tion­ally are what clean up the mul­ti­plex.

But mops are cen­tral to the nar­ra­tive in “Joy,” and there’s no way around it. Mir­a­cle Mop in­ven­tor and en­tre­pre­neur Joy Mangano, a work­ing-class Long Is­land striver who’s now a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire in the realm of Home Shop­ping Net­work in­fomer­cials, serves as the sub­ject of Rus­sell’s ninth fea­ture (if you count the long-shelved “Ac­ci­den­tal Love”). Rus­sell’s pre­vi­ous three pic­tures, “The Fighter,” “Sil­ver Lin­ings Play­book” and “Amer­i­can Hustle,” con­sti­tute a re­mark­able string of films that were A) pop­u­lar; B) com­pet­i­tive in the awards sea­son; and C) really good.

“Joy” breaks the streak, un­for­tu­nately, though by now writer-di­rec­tor Rus­sell has earned the right and the priv­i­lege to stum­ble and then go on making un­con­ven­tional main­stream movies with ter­rific ac­tors.

This one’s an un­cer­tainly styl­ized suc­cess fa­ble, nar­rated by Joy’s grand­mother (Diane Ladd), re­veal­ing in its hec­tic early scenes a young girl (Is­abella Crovet­tiCramp plays the young Joy) de­ter­mined to con­struct things and make her mark with­out be­com­ing the woman on some man’s arm. “I didn’t need a prince,” she tells us. She just needed her chance.

Af­ter in­vent­ing a re­tractable dog col­lar only to MPAA rat­ing: PG-13 (for brief strong lan­guage)

Run­ning time: 2:00

Opens: Fri­day see the Hartz version zoom on the sales charts in­stead, Joy vows to re­tain con­trol of her creations. Years later, bingo: the re­tractable, self-wring­ing mop, made of sturdy plas­tic and far less icky to use than mops that came be­fore it. This mop be­comes the means to a happy end. Bradley Cooper plays the QVC ex­ec­u­tive who backs her then be­comes her busi­ness ad­ver­sary. Robert De Niro is Joy’s dad, whose auto body shop is con­verted into a makeshift fac­tory. Is­abella Ros­sellini is the De Niro char­ac­ter’s paramour and Joy’s backer.

“Joy” finds its foot­ing in the sim­plest scenes of Joy be­ing in­tro­duced to the won­der­ful world of in­fomer­cials. Then the movie hacks its way through back­stage dra­mas in­volv­ing patent con­tro­versy, un­scrupu­lous busi­ness part­ners and im­ped­i­ments to Joy’s des­tiny. Edgar Ramirez por­trays Joy’s ex-hus­band and nearcon­stant friend and sup­porter. Vir­ginia Mad­sen has too lit­tle to do as Joy’s wreck of a mother, ob­sessed with the soaps, wor­ried about ev­ery­thing.

“Joy” does play like a movie of the mo­ment: It’s about a woman who deals with a mas­sive wall of male skep­ti­cism and de­ri­sion, and takes care of busi­ness. Lawrence is very good in the role. But the script never jells; the com­edy feels forced and me­chan­i­cally bois­ter­ous, par­tic­u­larly in the cru­cial early pas­sages. And in the fi­nal 30 min­utes, it’s a dan­gling mess. If only 1980-era Jonathan Demme, the Demme of “Melvin and Howard,” had got­ten hold of this story! Then again, at his best, Rus­sell is his own kind of ensem­ble wiz­ard. This movie feels as if it got away from him. Au­di­ences may buy it any­way; Lawrence’s ex­tra­or­di­nary ease and skill never hurt. I’m not sure if hid­ing what the movie’s ac­tu­ally about, in the trail­ers, was the smartest idea. On the other hand, an af­ford­able and clev­erly de­signed mop will never be an easy sell in a uni­verse where “Star Wars” is bat­ting cleanup. Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune News­pa­pers critic.


Jen­nifer Lawrence plays in­ven­tor Joy Mangano in “Joy.”

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