It’s a David O. Russell film, yes, but Joy is in a way “all Jennifer Lawrence, all the time.” It’s a star vehicle, but even more than that, it feels as though it’s written for and around everything she’s been so far in the movies (including Russell’s American Hustle, as well as Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games).
The moxie, the giddy naivete, the maternal precocity, the off-handed saintliness, the tough-mindedness, the grassroots smarts—it’s all there, in the character she plays (Joy Mangano, the housewife who invented the Miracle Mop) and the movie as a whole (which is also the story of Mangano’s flamboyantly ramshackle family and the business empire she built with them and for them, and sometimes despite them).
In the film, Joy’s family seems a little too precious in its cutesy, made-to-order weirdness and suburban grotesquerie—the feckless, curmudgeonly, oft-divorced father (Robert De Niro), the reclusive and narcissistic mother (Virginia Madsen), the snidely envious half-sister (Elisabeth Röhm), the crazy-smart grandmother/oracle (Diane Ladd) who narrates the story from somewhere beyond the grave.
Joy’s ex-husband (Édgar Ramirez) and her life-long friend Jackie (Dascha Polanco) match Grandma Mimi in their loyalty and support. The main stand-outs among the secondary characters are a tightly wound TV producer (an excellent Bradley Cooper) and the De Niro character’s business-minded girlfriend (an intriguingly overbearing Isabella Rossellini).
But all the best scenes in the film have Lawrence going strong—Joy’s first appearance on QVC, her various meetings with Neil Walker (Cooper), her showdown with a cowboy-hatted grifter (Bill Thorpe) in Texas.