Top of the mops…
As Steve Jobs taught us last year, biopics don’t have to be staid, predictable, cradle-to-grave dramas. Well, David O. Russell couldn’t do staid if he tried.
Going into this tale of Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop, on a serious (or rather seriocomic) hot streak that’s brought us The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Russell again corrals his repertory troupe of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, and once more marries a fizzily anarchic style to emotional substance.
Narrated, fairytale-like, by grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), who wishes for her granddaughter to “grow to be the successful matriarch you were born to be,” Joy pitches us into the chaotic life of the eponymous divorcee (Lawrence), living with her two kids, a bed-hugging, soap-viewing mother (Virginia Madsen), said grandma, and, residing in the basement, her cantankerous father (De Niro) and unemployed ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez).
She dreams of more than managing the accounts of her dad’s auto shop, and has a flash of inspiration while staring at her bleeding hands after hand-wringing the mop she’s used to clean up a shattered glass of red wine.
Yes, this is another of Russell’s fractured, fractious families, the full chaos of their pinballing, up-to-11 lives communicated by his redeployment of a hurtling camera, jump cuts and a generous serving of hit tunes on the soundtrack.
Russell’s style is divisive, love it or loathe it, and many viewers might just wish he trusted in his heroine’s remarkable story rather than dress it up so forcefully. Alongside flashbacks and dream sequences, he also has a penchant for cutting into scenes, and leaving them again, in unusual places. Such sleight of hand fits con story American Hustle more snugly, and there’s a sense that Russell is here straining to find his film – four editors are credited.
But find it he does, just, with any stutters galloped over with sheer brio. The ace up his sleeve, of course, is Jennifer Lawrence, giving a gritty, gutsy, bewitching performance that’s the match of anything in her career. Her best scenes come when she again bounces off her Silver Linings and American Hustle co-star Cooper, here running the QVC channel that gets Joy’s self-wringing Miracle Mop into American homes.
But she’s fine on her own, thank you very much, carrying the picture. Don’t be surprised if she wipes the floor with all competition to win her second Oscar.