The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Sometimes directors and actors have such creatively fulfilling partnerships that they work together again and again. Martin Scorsese has made many films with Robert DeNiro and, more recently, Leonardo DiCaprio. Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson often team up. And who could forget Woody Allen and Diane Keaton? Joy marks the third collaboration between David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence, following Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. For whatever reason, their artistic sensibilities mesh in a way that produces quirky, entertaining movies. Joy is the least of their collaborations – at least on first viewing – but it nonetheless works as an appealing story about a woman with such confidence in her million-dollar idea that she utterly refuses to be anyone's doormat.

Based on actual events, the film casts Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of two who lives with her eccentric soap opera-addicted mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), working class father Rudy (DeNiro), supportive grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), and even ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez). One day, Joy gets an idea for a household product, a mop that you can wring out without ever having to touch it. (You know it as the Miracle Mop.) Rudy, who is divorced from Terry, puts up seed money for her to produce it. Joy makes the product and pitches it to Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), an executive with a new television “home shopping” channel called QVC. While the product itself is solid, the road to its success is rocky, thanks to a number of business-related obstacles that leave Joy teetering on the brink of financial ruin.

For a while, Joy seems like it's going to be an epic misfire. Terry watches soap operas all day long, and the film's early scenes - which introduce the various dynamics between Joy and her family members – are intentionally staged to resemble an old daytime drama. The approach is a little disconcerting; the jokester in Russell can't resist playing things absurdly over-the-top. At exactly the thirty minute mark, Joy hatches her idea, and suddenly (thankfully) the movie finds its footing.

From there, it proceeds to evolve into a thoughtful female-empowerment story. Joy doesn't have any business acumen, but she's got a killer idea for a product. Her confidence in the mop is so strong that she lets nothing stand in her way. One of the film's best scenes finds Neil trying to turn her into a QVC mannequin-esque host. She rebels, insisting that she go on the air dressed as a normal woman who might actually pick up a mop once in a while. Her instincts prove correct. As the plot progresses, Joy has to take on bigger and bigger challenges. She meets every one with the same directness.

Jennifer Lawrence has experience playing strong women, having portrayed Katniss Everdeen in four Hunger Games pictures. For Joy, she taps into a different, more internal kind of strength. Joy's inexperience in the world of merchandising makes her an easy target for people who would either dismiss her or rip her off. However, she understands what it's like to need a product such as the one she's devised. Joy knows the mop will be a runaway success. She just has to plow through all the things in her path. Lawrence brings this determination to life, giving the character a surprising (and surprisingly effective) note of fear. Joy is afraid that someone else will perfect the idea before she does, so every setback is a potential calamity.

David O. Russell emphasizes the fish-out-of-water quality of the story, often playing Joy's outsider status for small laughs, without trivializing it. Scenes between Joy and Neil are among the most effective, as they contrast her realness with the artifice of television. There's a similar vibe within her family. Her parents have both clearly settled for their lot in life. They don't fully grasp Joy's insistence on pursuing her dream. She's often at odds with them, just as she is with the business world. Everything culminates in a climactic confrontation between Joy and the one person who could end it all for her. By this point, her confidence has fully bloomed, rendering her ready to, for once, be the fish in the water.

Joy is not the best movie Russell and Lawrence have made together. That first act is a major stumble, and the director's penchant for manufacturing oddball moments doesn't gel as smoothly with a story like this as it did with Silver Linings Playbook, a film that was inherently about people dealing with their quirks. Even so, Lawrence is great, the supporting cast is tops, and the tale of how Joy Mangano made a mop that revolutionized the industry is hard to resist.

Joy is, for the most part, a witty and engrossing look at a sister who's doing it for herself.

( out of four)

Joy is rated PG-13 for brief strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 4 minutes.

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