Jennifer Lawrence isn't always incandescent. But you still can't take your eyes off her.
She plays Joy Mangano, and her (mostly true) story is told from the point of view of Grandmom, Mimi (Diane Ladd), who, of course, dotes on her, and keeps telling her she's going to be something fantastic. Positively, that's a challenge and an encouragement. Negatively, well, it puts a lot of pressure on her. And what happens when she doesn't live up to those lofty expectations?
Her Mom, Terry (Virginia Madsen), has pretty well given up. She sits on her bed all day and watches soap operas, which she can afford to do because she has the upstairs bedroom at Joy's house. In the basement is her ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez), a wanna-be singer who still has one nightclub gig, but even after the divorce, he can't afford to move out on his own. Though Joy was the valedictorian at her high school, she passed up a chance to go away to college in order to take care of the house and help her parents through their divorce. Rudy (Robert De Niro) owns a moderately successful garage next door, where Joy keeps the books. His daughter from a previous marriage, Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), also works there, but as much as he would love for the half-sisters to love each other, they don't. Dad's freshly separated from his girlfriend, supposedly “the love of his life,” was living with Peggy, but she can't stand it any more, so she brings Dad over to live with Joy, too, who doesn't have any more room, except in the basement with her ex, but they despise each other. And yes, Joy also has two young children to care for, and is holding down a job at the airport behind the ticket counter, and is the one who pays the bills at the house, and fixes the plumbing. She looks exhausted. The only real friend she has is her childhood chum, Jackie (Dascha Polanco), and sometimes they just drink wine at the kitchen table and wonder what happened to all their dreams. Like the one where Joy was going to be an inventor.
Through some dream sequences involving soap operas (a clever little ploy), Joy finally decides that it's past time to pursue her true passion, and take control of her life while doing it. She develops a self-wringing, re-washable mop, and tries, unsuccessfully, to sell her idea. We feel for her every step of the way, as she tries so desperately to construct a prototype (using a mechanic from her father's garage), introduce her product to the public (but she's run off the K-Mart parking lot for setting up a business without a license). When she does get a producer from the local television station to listen to her, Neil (Bradley Cooper) has his own point of view: he demands a pre-inventory, which stretches Joy's finances to the point of a second mortgage, and borrowing from Dad's new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini). She's all in. But then the advertising spot is botched, and more frustration and failure ensue. Then, when she finally starts getting some response by doing the infomercial bit herself (doesn't hurt to be young, attractive, and intelligent), she runs into manufacturers who first unilaterally raise their prices, then try to steal her idea. Can she handle herself in the hard-nosed arena of conscienceless shysters? Ah, just ask Grandmom. Still telling her she can do this. Even from beyond the grave.
No, there's no romance between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Yes, her most trustworthy people are her best friend from childhood and her ex, and both help her succeed. And she learns some tough lessons along the way. But by this time we're rooting for her unequivocally, just like her Grandmother always did. Jennifer Lawrence isn't always incandescent. But you still can't take your eyes off her.
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Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Mabank, Texas