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domingo, 27 de dezembro de 2015

Joy review: 'Jennifer Lawrence cleans up again'

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper's third collaboration with David O Russell turns domestic drama into a funny, moving Golden Age pleasure
Jennifer Lawrence hasn’t won an Oscar for reading aloud from the phone book just yet, but she may be about to be nominated for selling a mop. There’s a scene in the middle of Joy, Lawrence’s third and latest film with David O. Russell – a biopic of Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop – in which Joy finds herself in front of the cameras on the QVC Shopping Network, clutching a plastic floor-scrubbing device of her own invention.
The name Miracle Mop is well-chosen. Joy’s entire life, let alone her linoleum, is sorely in need of divine intervention. Rudy (Robert De Niro), her exasperating father, has recently moved into her basement, after being dumped on the doorstep by his ex-partner like a malfunctioning washing machine. Her mother Carrie (Virginia Madsen), a kind of lace-edged satin pillowcase in human form, is horrified – as is Joy’s buffoonishly useless ex-husband Tony (Édgar Ramírez), who for the past two years has been very contentedly living in the basement by himself.
Inspiration for the Miracle Mop doesn’t so much strike as dawn – the first rays piercing the clouds when Joy is, as usual, cleaning up after this trio of adult children (this time, a couple of broken glassfuls of red wine, sloshed across the deck of her father’s new girlfriend’s boat: Joy’s three actual children are as good as gold by comparison).
As she wrings out the mop-head by hand, she looks down at her palms, pierced by glass and spotted with blooms of blood, and realises things have to change. In the long term, the answer is adequate support from her family, and acknowledgement of her impossible workload. But in the meantime, a mop that could squeeze itself out would be great.
Screwball mayhem: Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence and Virginia Madsen in Joy
Screwball mayhem: Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence and Virginia Madsen in JoyCredit: 20th Century Fox
Fast-forward to the present, and bang. This is the flashpoint, to quote Bradley Cooper’smustard-jacketed QVC executive, who’s hovering on the sidelines, at which “the ordinary meets the extraordinary” – where a dirty mop-head has the power to wring itself, and Joy’s similarly grimy existence starts to turn itself inside out. Caught in the glare of the studio lights, she fumbles to find the right words.
But soon, that miraculous mop-head is gliding across the floor, and the sales lines start to ring. For the first time in the 17 years since her parents divorced, Joy feels successful – and with that success comes a rush of vindication so heady it prickles in your eyes like electricity. Lawrenceis wiping up chocolate syrup and baby food, and it’s laugh-out-loud-ridiculously moving.
Since Joy is a David O. Russell film, the presence of a) Lawrence and b) bizarre, fizz-popping explosions of catharsis are to be expected. But the ringmaster of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle seems to have mellowed a little, which means fewer outright belly laughs, but a more layered and involving emotional landscape. (Though there are still some yelp-out-loud moments in Russell’s script – not least of all De Niro’s description of his ex-wife as “like a gas leak: we don’t see you, we don’t smell you, but you’re killing us all silently”, and a bizarre soap opera, all paste diamonds and plywood walls, that's constantly on televisions, as if it's being broadcast live around the clock.)
Russell is no stranger to using the extended family unit as a prefabricated framework for rackety screwball mayhem – the technique gave The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook their most robustly enjoyable scenes, and here, he also puts it to expert use. Joy’s household is always full of faces: in addition to her parents, ex-husband and children, her envious half-sister Peggy (Elizabeth Röhm), her supportive grandmother (a superb, tremulously beautiful Diane Ladd, who also narrates), her best friend Jackie (Dascha Polanko), her father’s girlfriend and Miracle Mop’s main investor Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), and even a friendly Haitian plumber (Jimmy Jean-Louis) always seem to be around, as if they’ve just come tumbling out of the hallway cupboard.

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But it’s Lawrence’s liaison with the beautifully on-form Cooper that stay with you most – not because their relationship is all that romantic (in fact it’s largely professional), but because it brings a counterintuitive dignity and grace to what on the face of things seems to be a throwaway, eccentric tale.
Though he works for a cable TV shopping channel, Cooper’s character comports himself like a Golden Age Hollywood filmmaker – rhapsodising about old-school studio heads Jack Warner and Darryl F. Zanuck, and passionately urging his cameras mid-broadcast to “give me the hands” and “cut to the syrup”.
He likens his and Joy’s meeting to the moment the great director David O. Selznick met Jennifer Jones, a former hat model whose collaborations with Selznick made her a star of Classical Hollywood cinema – and Russell is drawing an additional, impertinent but irresistible parallel with his and Lawrence’s own creative alliance.
While the Golden Age may be long gone, its spirit endures in Joy. It’s the best kind of actor-director collaboration. Take the sum of its parts, double it, and you’re almost there.

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