If you’ve read the post about the most disappointing films of the year list, Concussion was easily entrenched into it. A film about one of the prevailing issues of sports, it had the chance to be truly horrifying and wonderfully interesting, instead, the dramatic tension dissipates in favor of a much weaker film than expected, even with a borderline Oscar caliber showing from Will Smith.
One could say a similar thing about Joy, except that from the get-go, it didn’t seem to have the same kind of magic that the last three films directed by David O’Russell had. This one isn’t terrible, but it’s woefully inconsistent and rarely finds its footing after a very messy first act. There’s occasionally some David O’Russell magic, basically whenever Bradley Cooper is in the movie, but the dysfunctional family dynamic that permeates the details of the film doesn’t really hit in the way it did in Silver Linings Playbook, so the overall quality doesn’t quite rise to what we would’ve wanted.
In Concussion, we want to see the pain that players truly go through, and get more scenes of Will Smith’s character really discovering how awful the entire scenario is in both the injuries and the systematic nature of the NFL. The horror and drama that could come out of this, things that are further explored in the documentaries on this topic, are mostly absent, outside of a really good scene where we see the decay of Mike Webster (David Morse). Will Smith’s Dr. Omalu is supposed to be a very reserved, uncharismatic doctor who doesn’t have the personality to play ball with the NFL. Some of Smith’s performance truly is brilliant, he does a great job, but he’s hampered by a script that puts in way too many supporting players as doctors. None really matter except for Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks, and a romance that is shoe-horned in with Gugu Mbatha-Raw really lands flat. It’s the type of film where years of time pass and you would never know because the story doesn’t indicate it, and while the battle of egos between the doctors and the NFL is occasionally interesting, the scene where they randomly hire thugs to follow his wife (it’s in the trailer) feels really out of place. The crisp editing and nice cinematography also feel a bit out of place, like it was supposed to be a more interesting thriller and less of an inspirational drama. There were mistakes made, and Peter Landesman, a relatively new director, may be at fault.
Joy focuses on Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy Mangano, a brilliant young woman who has too many household responsibilities to pursue her dreams of being an inventor and business proprietor. She got hitched and divorced from Spanish singer Tony (Edgar Ramirez), had two kids, and now still lives at home with her bed-ridden mother (Virginia Madsen) and loving grandmother (Diane Ladd). Tony still lives in the basement despite their divorce and while Joy juggles two kids and a job, she is also the main laborer around the house as well. Her father (Robert DeNiro) shows up on their doorstep as well, after his third divorce, and moves into a house with his ex-wife and his ex-son-in-law that he doesn’t like. Elisabeth Rohm plays her half-sister, Dascha Polanco plays her childhood best friend, and Isabella Rossellini plays Trudy, her grandfather’s new bae.
Joy invents the miracle mop and has Trudy stake her in the business. She views this as her big break to finally both realize her dreams and provide for her family. She wins over the attention of QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) and her career begins, dealing with all of the treachery of business-life while still being held back from her dysfunctional family.
The first act of the film, focusing mainly on Joy’s struggle and the dysfunctional family is supposed to be very similar to a soap opera, in fact, we get small cutaway scenes of the soaps that Joy’s mother is always watching in bed. It’s obvious that O’Russell expected this to be very funny, both in making Joy rise above it, but also in casting likable actors into crazy roles like this. The actual effect is really, really messy. The first 45 minutes or so of Joy are a complete mess, and the movie doesn’t get going until her business career even starts. When Bradley Cooper gets on the screen, the film begins to pop and we see flashes of what this movie could’ve been like. Joy has a large arc as a character, and her family stays the same, pulling her back, and once the real plot of the film gets a hold of you, scenes back at home with the crazy family really are unwelcome. This creates clashing tones that don’t help the film’s purpose. Then, with O’Russell clearly confused about how to both start and finish the film, he does what he did in American Hustle, a fact-dump speech from a character that is supposed to tie up loose ends in the script but doesn’t really. It’s still a little confusing how the ending works out, and like in American Hustle it does detract from a film that had gained some momentum.
Silver Linings Playbook may be his magnum opus. So much could’ve gone wrong in that, but didn’t, and in Joy, most of it finally falls off that dangerous precipice going from crazy and charming to just nonsensical.