Credit goes to writer/director David O. Russell for building a film around Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the Miracle Mop. It may be a surprise for some going into the film Joy, given how vague the marketing was for the film, but that’s a tricky subject to tackle. This clearly proved to be true, as star Jennifer Lawrence certainly puts her all into the lead performance that earned her another Oscar nomination, but the film is not quite a rousing success compared to Russell’s previous efforts. Now Joy has arrived on Blu-ray for a wider audience to look out for.
Joy (Lawrence) is at the center of this sprawling narrative, as we watch this divorced mother in the early stages of developing a business empire. Success comes later, but that is really only a spoiler for real life. The film follows Joy developing an idea for the best mop ever and spending much of the film fighting her various family members and shady businessmen on how to get it on the market.
Along with Lawrence, Russell’s regulars drop by, as Robert De Niro plays Rudy Mangano (Joy’s father) and Bradley Cooper steps in for a brief turn as a QVC executive. We also have Edgar Ramirez as Joy’s ex-husband/advisor Toni Miranne, an underused Virginia Madsen as Joy’s mother, Isabella Rossellini as Rudy’s girlfriend and Joy’s backer and Diane Ladd as Joy’s grandmother and the film’s narrator.
It is an ensemble picture, and with the exception of Ladd, each of these characters finds a way to be an irritating presence in Joy’s life. That can be difficult to deal with, which is why Russell seems to make some missteps in how to present this story. Much like Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Joy presents both comedy and drama, but it does not feel as precise this time around and it’s largely a character issue.
Having De Niro around is all well and good, but Rudy amounts to a one-note jerk. This applies to all of Joy’s family, so even while the film has a level screwball energy to add some zip to many scenes, little registers. As we know Joy has nowhere to eventually go but up, so watching a series of pathetic scenes involving those keeping her down makes the film register as too sour to really embrace fully.
In Russell’s The Fighter, a lot of annoyance was caused by Micky Ward’s family, but that film had a sense of stakes built from his boxing career and the relationship with his brother Dicky. Silver Linings Playbook was a modern screwball comedy, where every character was an idiosyncratic mess. Joy has a lead character who is clearly a hero with ambition and no need for a Prince Charming, but she’s constantly forced to deal with negativity in her life.
The film has an uneven mix of its tones, but it is still largely enjoyable for a few reasons. Lawrence is terrific in all the ways people have come to expect. Some have complained that casting the 25-year-old actress in this role is a disservice to the real Joy, but Lawrence has the energy and nuance required to pull off an engaging performance you want to root for.
Many should also be happy to champion how well this film does work at communicating what it means to invest in an invention and all the troubles that come from going all-in on it. This film may be lacking from a character standpoint, but Russell does create some standout sequences and provides the whole package with enough zeal to make it quite watchable.
Joy is both a memoir and a fairy tale story about a young woman coming into her own over time and those who stood in the way of her ideas. It’s a bit shaky in doing all it needs to, but a strong performance from Lawrence keeps this film afloat. For a story about the woman who created the Miracle Mop, ‘Joy’ does enough to stay compelling.
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Clarity/Detail: Joy looks great on Blu-ray. While not as obviously visually ambitious as something like The Revenant, Fox has done well by both films for their home releases. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography fits the style we have seen from Russell before and it amounts to lots of ensemble scenes where we can observe all the great details in the production design.
Depth: With an ensemble cast or even in scenes that pit Joy against the world, you get a great read on the level of dimensionality present in the film with this transfer.
Black Levels: Black levels are pretty great here. No signs of crush.
Color Reproduction: The film has a soft color palette, but that’s not a bad thing, just an understanding of the filmmaking choice. It allows for certain scenes to stand out quite a bit though, when presented with such contrasting elements, as the film does warm up in this area at times. The colors really pop when presented.
Flesh Tones: Facial textures look great. You can see a great amount of detail in all the performers, which allows for a consistent appearance throughout.
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Dynamics: Russell loves to play around with the audio mix on his films, as we get a big mix of dialogue, score and music tracks that are blared in different ways throughout. It comes through great here, as you can really gather what the film is going for, regardless of how successful it is, with the sound design presented on this audio track.
Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel gets some active work in a few key scenes and it is utilized well.
Surround Sound Presentation: The film is front-heavy thanks to the dialogue-heavy nature of the film, but you get a great sense of atmosphere, given all the different audio sources coming through effectively on all the different channels.
Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone talks and yells loud and clear.
Joy does not come packed with extras, but you do get a decent interview piece that lasts well over an hour. I would have wished for more about the production, but you take what you get on some of these.
- Joy, Strength and Perseverance (HD, 20:21) – Most of the cast and David O. Russell basically run through the journey Joy takes in the film in various interview bits.
- Times Talk with Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell and Maureen Dowd (HD, 1:07:42) – We do not get a commentary, so this congratulatory interview piece will have to do. The moderator is quite awful, but at least you get some good stories.
- Gallery (HD)
- Digital Copy of the Film – iTunes and UltraViolet
Ultimately I just wish the film was better. Lawrence and much of the cast are strong, even if a lot of them are real irritants. There is an interesting story here with a lot of Russell’s trademark touches. Fortunately the Blu-ray looks and sounds great. I wish there were more extra features to shed more light on the film as well, but you get a good look behind what went into developing the story. As far as the film goes, Joy has a lot to offer and hopefully some have more joy in putting it all together.