Movie Review: Is “Joy” About a Woman or an Everywoman?

David O. Russell doesn’t make bad movies. And lately he gets Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (and Robert De Niro) to act in them. His most recent movie, Joy, is set in the early ‘90s and is based on real events. Many popular films this year were set in the past, some in the 1950s and ‘60s. My sense of this phenomenon is that through these films, we peer longingly behind us for evidence of a more authentic, more human reality.

I mention movies set in the past because Joy takes three very contemporary themes and examines them in the form of a pioneering example twenty years ago: a single mother who thought and acted like a star entrepreneur. The three themes embedded in that concept are 1) the arriving age of the woman, 2) the continued rise of modern global capitalism and consumerism, and 3) single women heads of household as modern heroes.

It makes you wonder if Russell wanted a story that could feature a woman (because it’s a dominant theme now and because he works with Jennifer Lawrence, probably the biggest female box-office draw today) and also represent a single mom who prevailed in a man’s world—in business. Don’t forget that Patricia Arquette practically ran the table for awards last year: she was the Golden Globe, Oscar, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild winner for best actress in Boyhood. She played a single mom.

Whatever Russell’s motivation, Joy, through the versatility of Jennifer Lawrence, gives you a woman in full: she is a granddaughter, daughter, wife; she is a mother, friend, and37922818 skillful inventor. The most inspiring aspects of her character are that she learns to trust her instincts, and that she never ceases to be a nice person—even when she has to be firm and even after she achieves success. Bradley Cooper filled the bill, Robert DeNiro was good as Joy’s less-than-loyal dad, and we get to watch Isabella Rossellini add some European sensibilities to the mix.

As a best picture candidate, I think Joy will be left out this year. As an entertaining story and movie, Joy worked. It worked better as a lesson for the modern everywoman though: trust your instincts and don’t give up, then do what you love and what you do best. And be nice—nice guys might finish last, but we’re not talking about just “guys” any more.


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