Blu-ray Review: Joy (2015)

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Jennifer Lawrence delivers a knockout performance in writer-director David O. Russell's Joy. She portrays a woman loosely based on Joy Mangano, the real-life inventor/entrepreneur who introduced the world to the Miracle Mop. In the special features on 20th Century Fox's new Blu-ray edition, Russell says about 50 percent of the story is factual. Whatever the reasons for embellishing Mangano's story, the end results are ultimately a bit slight. The supporting cast (which includes Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Virginia Madsen, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, and Isabella Rossellini) is over-qualified for the stylishly-executed yet thin plot. Lawrence's portrait of fierce determination in the face of constant adversity is the primary reason to invest your time.

Joy lives with her two kids, her mom (Madsen), grandmother (Ladd), and ex-husband Tony (Ramírez). Her house is small and in disrepair, yet no one seems especially interested in easing her burdens. Her dad Rudy (De Niro) joins the clan, having broken up with a girlfriend. He and Tony share the basement, their respective living spaces divided by an unspooled roll of toilet paper. Tony, a struggling lounge singer, has remained Joy's biggest supporter and advocate. When she devises a self-wringing mop (with a removable, machine-washable head), it's Tony who truly believes in her. But Joy needs money, so she turns to Rudy's new gal pal Trudy (Rossellini). Trudy's late husband was a business tycoon and she's now on the lookout for investment opportunities for their formidable estate. 
Joy de niro (380x223).jpg Joy's drive to succeed in business (with very little practical experience) is infectious. Her verve carries Russell's Scorsese-inspired visuals (not quite as blatantly copped as they were in 2013's puzzlingly overrated American Hustle) farther than they really deserve to go on their own. Obstacles crop up as Joy takes her product to the then-new-ish QVC network. That's only after she resorts to hawking her mops in a K-Mart parking lot (with no permit). Patent issues and other legal problems provide additional setbacks, but Joy's firm mindset is unwavering.

Sadly the whole thing feels like one big ramp-up to revelations that never arrive. Russell's use of a soap opera as parallel commentary feels pretentious and forced. He could've spent more time examining the reasons why Joy so steadfastly supports her terrible, ungrateful, discouraging father (and her similarly atrocious half-sister, played with effective bitterness by Elisabeth Röhm). The most interesting relationship is between Joy and Tony. Again, Russell leaves us wanting far more. These two ex-spouses are the very closest of friends—why couldn't they make their marriage work? Instead of captivatingly enigmatic, this plot element feels disappointingly unexplored. 
JOY BD (309x380).jpg As for Fox's Blu-ray, Joy offers a beautiful transfer of Linus Sandgren's 35mm cinematography. The natural appearance of film grain only adds to the period feel of Joy, which takes place in the pre-internet, pre-cell phone, pre-digital era of the late-'80s/early-'90s. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is pretty straightforward, but there's especially robust bass during the many rock tunes on the soundtrack.

Special features: "Joy, Strength and Perseverance" (a 20-minute 'making of'), "Times Talk with Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell and Maureen Dowd" (67-minute interview), still gallery.

Anti-climax doesn't begin to describe the final act of Joy, but that doesn't diminish the bold lead performance by Lawrence nor the vivid supporting turns by its excellent ensemble cast.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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