It’s perhaps too flippant to say that this is about a woman who got rich by selling a lot of mops. Any film can be deconstructed to a banal base – but by the same token it can also be overblown into a quasi-Homeric tale of triumph over impossible odds. Which is the case when Hollywood goes into bat for ‘the Great American Dream’. Caressed by the saccharine voice-over of her dead grandmother, we meet the inventive child who will grow up to be our heroine Joy (Jennifer Lawrence). Because overstatement is the only language that this type of movie speaks, the kid announces that to fulfil her dreams she needs ‘no prince’. Good for her. Joy then goes on to have a failed marriage to Tony (Édgar Ramírez), the most likeable character involved in her ascent of ambition’s slippery slope, while being a mother of two and stressed focal point of her de rigueur dysfunctional family.
For the first half-hour the narrative is guided largely by the soundtrack, as songs by Cream, the Bee Gees and Frank and Nancy Sinatra spell out for us the important points we are to understand, but eventually the plot kicks in and, though never surprising, it is well constructed and intriguing in a ‘how bad can it get for poor Joy’ way. Lawrence holds it together superbly as, around her, Robert De Niro, playing her charmless father with weary conviction, Isabella Rossellini as his pantomime lover and Joy’s reluctant backer, and Bradley Cooper impersonating Bradley Cooper, do little more than go through the motions. If it weren’t for Ramírez and a lovely performance from Dascha Polanco as Joy’s loyal friend Jackie, it would be hard to care for any of them.
David O Russell’s insistence on depicting the plebs as dimwitted addicts of TV soapies is annoyingly dismissive and, if you still didn’t get the point, the last scene, in which an African-American woman presents her invention to Joy while hubby holds the baby is typical of a lecturing approach to affirmative action. Overrated.