Review: Joy

Joy (2015)
Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco. Directed by David O. Russell.

joy2I’ve now seen four films directed by David O. Russell, and they are all better than they should be, but they’re probably a bit overrated at the same time. Of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, only American Hustle is consistently good, with strong performances by every actor and a story that looks on paper like something to make a movie out of.

This is why the synopsis of Joy doesn’t matter much: with a Russell film, it’s not really the story that sticks with you. It’s the acting, direction, dialogue, and feeling you leave the theater with. Since Joy has many of Russell’s crew (Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro), there was reason to think it could be at least as good as those last three.

But it’s not. Perhaps Amy Adams is the missing ingredient.

joy1Joy’s failure is not Lawrence’s fault. She’s her usual, dependable, thoughtful self, somehow making Russell’s terrible dialogue believable where the other actors can’t. I get what Russell’s trying to do—he sets the film up as a fairy tale (complete with step-sister, step-parents, and Cinderella motifs galore), and he includes a voice-over narration by Diane Ladd (who plays Joy’s grandmother) that sounds like a fairy tale, and he gives the actors lines that sound like lines from a bedtime story, which all sounds like it could work, but none of it does. Except the Jennifer Lawrence stuff.

Lawrence plays Joy Mangano, the real-life inventor of the Miracle Mop, a mop you can wring without putting your hands on the mop head. Her ex-husband still lives in her basement, her father moves back in whenever he’s between girlfriends, her mom stays in bed all day watching soap operas, and her step-sister takes every opportunity to make her feel like crap. But someone has a connection to this new TV shopping network thing, and Joy puts everything on the line to chase happily-ever-after.

joy3The movie would suck if not for Lawrence’s meaningful grasp on her character, which she best displays when interacting with anyone whose name is not on the movie poster. It’s a small role, but Dascha Polanco (she’s Dayanara Diaz in Orange is the New Black) as Joy’s best friend since childhood is the only actor who seems to exist in the same plane as Lawrence, so when they’re sharing screen time, the movie feels real and normal. Just about every other scene feels like those weird infomercials hosted by actors you used to admire: strange, meaningless, and kind of sad.


Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Holt, Kelsey Grammer, and Peter Dinklage. Directed by Bryan Singer.

days1In some future time, mutants (and their supporters) are being exterminated by Sentinels, robot-like things that have Mystique’s powers of transformation. To combat this, Shadowcat has been sending other mutants’ consciousnesses back in time, to warn their recent past selves of the impending danger, so the mutants can go elsewhere. This affects their present so that they were never where the Sentinels show up, a kind of going back in time to prevent a bad present.

days_2But it’s not enough; the Sentinels can’t be held off like this forever. So Charles Xavier’s plan is to send someone’s consciousness back to 1973 to prevent the murder Mystique committed that resulted in her being captured and experimented on, which gave the government the knowledge for the creation of the Sentinels. Shadowcat can’t go herself, because she didn’t exist in 1973, and the strain on even the formidable mind of Xavier would be too great to survive. So Wolverine of the self-healing mind* volunteers to convince Xavier and Eric Lensherr to help him stop Mystique. Xavier, remembering what he was like in 1973, warns Logan that he will “not be easy to convince.”

days3Wolverine’s present mind goes back to his 1973 self, which is a genius move for the writers, because rather than putting makeup on Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Romijn, Ian McKellen, and Kelsey Grammer to make them look decades younger, the film just uses the cast from X-Men: First Class. I love this.

The premise is so good that even a so-so realization would still have made this a pretty good film, but the writers and director have fun with the back-in-time bit, and they play with the suspense so it’s enjoyable without being manipulative. Jackman and McAvoy are excellent, loaded with all kinds of dark conflict—McAvoy’s Xavier manages to out-dark Logan in this film, and this is a very good thing. The continued friendship-rivalry between Xavier and Lehnsherr keeps working. It’s one of the best things about the X-Men series, and X-Men: Days of Future Past is possibly my favorite of the X-Men movies.


*I love the premise, but if I understand Wolverine correctly, it’s his body that recovers from injury, which means his brain regenerates, not necessarily his mind.  If his mind heals itself, why can’t he heal the parts of his memory that Stryker has taken away from him?