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Lawrence Shines, But Joy Often Feels Like a Domestic Chore

While Jennifer Lawrence excels in the title role, this tribute to female entrepreneurship is more muddled than heartfelt as it bogs down in dysfunctional family squabbling.

Rarely do we pause to appreciate the creators and innovators who toiled in anonymity to bring us everyday products that we take for granted, and that’s where Joy comes in.

The latest comedy from director David O. Russell (American Hustle) is a biopic intended to pay tribute to Joy Mangano, a pioneer female entrepreneur who invented household items including the Miracle Mop and Huggable Hangers, and remains a fixture in the world of home-shopping channels.

However, while Jennifer Lawrence excels in the title role, the film is more muddled than heartfelt as it bogs down in dysfunctional family squabbling.

It takes place in the late 1980s, when Joy lives with her neurotic Italian-American extended family in New York. They include her stubborn working-class father (Robert DeNiro), her dad’s affluent girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini), her sad-sack mother (Virginia Madsen), her Venezuelan ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez), her disapproving sister (Elisabeth Rohm), and her two children.

The resourceful Joy is forced to tend to them all, while trying to heed the words of her grandmother (Diane Ladd) to follow through on her ambition to become a famous inventor. Her first great idea is the Miracle Mop – with a unique design that prevents splattering – which she eventually takes to a QVC executive (Bradley Cooper) who reluctantly agrees to allow her on camera. However, Joy’s hopes of changing her family and the world, one kitchen mess at a time, are hardly that easy.

Joy works best when it keeps the focus on the title character. She’s the only one to generate much audience sympathy while enduring an early mid-life crisis.

She’s a portrait of an average woman forced to put her dreams on hold to tend to a variety of maternal obligations. Joy is charming and resilient and provides an emotional anchor amid the chaos around her. The hilarious sequence depicting her debut on QVC is a highlight.

Russell adds some amusing period touches, and surrounds himself with familiar collaborators such as Cooper and DeNiro. They’ve done better work elsewhere.

The film gets better as it goes along, yet Russell’s chatty screenplay is overloaded with whimsical quirks that keep it detached from reality, and there’s not much insight into the harsh realities of the business world. Like its protagonist, Joy has some useful ideas but struggles to realize them.