Having already ushered her to one Oscar win and another nomination, director David O. Russell reteams with his muse, Jennifer Lawrence, for the rambunctious, but wildly uneven "Joy." A modern melodrama, "Joy" is inspired by the life of harried homemaker turned entrepreneur Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop.
A creative, endlessly imaginative young girl, Joy has been held back from her full potential by her dysfunctional family (as so many of Russell's protagonists are). Only her grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd, also supplying the film's cloying narration) offers support. Mostly absent from Joy's life, her mother (Virginia Madsen) locks herself away in her bedroom, watching soap operas and hiding from the world. Her father Rudy (Robert De Niro), his wealthy new girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), and seething half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) are given little shading, coming across less as real people than constructs there to provide either hindrance or assistance to Joy achieving her goals. One of the key players in her life is her ex-husband, Tony (Édgar Ramirez). We're given no insight into their relationship beyond Mimi's assertion that they make better friends than spouses, and the character seems to turn on a dime, from useless layabout to sage adviser depending on the needs of the screenplay.
The film is held together by Lawrence, who despite appearing too young and fresh-faced to play a beaten-down-by-the-world, divorced mother of two, delivers an appealing performance. The film's best section revolves around Joy's experiences getting her product on the fledgling shopping channel QVC, run by Neil Walker (Lawrence's frequent Russell co-star, Bradley Cooper).
"Joy" is a Frankenstein's monster of a movie, disparate tones and plots grafted together into a shambling mess. Part dysfunctional family comedy, part inspirational tale of triumph-over-adversity, part business drama, the film sporadically sparks to life, but never coalesces into anything resembling a coherent whole.