Joy

Jennifer-Lawrence-Joy-Movie-Poster*** (out of five)

David O. Russell’s latest end-of-year collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence feels like a project that seriously lost its way along the production line. Lawrence plays Joy, a divorced mom of two trying to keep a mad suburban (New Jersey?) household together: her ex-husband lives in the basement; her mother lives (literally) in her upstairs bedroom, addicted to soap opera; and her dad has arrived on the doorstep, hurled out by the women he left her mother for, and needs to move in. Observing all this, and providing (extremely sparse) narration is Joy’s grandma, Mimi.

Mimi is played by Diane Ladd, and that narration, Ladd’s prominent billing, and a major plot development signal that, once upon a time, the relationship between Joy and her was meant to be the dominant one in the film. But along the way Mimi got sidelined, and now barely registers, a ghost on the margins of this frenetic household. A wispy Ladd can’t hope to compete with Robert De Niro as Joy’s dad Rudy, either, but Joy and his relationship is meandering rather than dramatic. Likewise, a competitive, at times toxic relationship between Joy and her half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm, in a very strange performance) sputters and spurts. The film keeps shifting focus, or, more bluntly, keeps dropping the dramatic ball.

Joy invents a mop and gets involved with the early days of the Home Shopping Network, run by eager beaver Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper, very earnest). This happens halfway through, and for a while the movie picks up, and indeed, in one sequence that’s the equal of anything Russell (and Lawrence) has ever done, it soars. Then, like a clipped eagle, it spasmodically jerks and loses its direction again, ending in a kind of plonking mess.

Nevertheless, Lawrence makes it watchable, and often charming. She’s in every scene and, through sheer force of will and talent, she pulls you through. I feel Russell’s script wasn’t ready, and he relied on Lawrence to do what she’s done – save the movie. That’s a heavy burden and an unfair one. It’s a shame, because with her operating at this calibre, and on such an original idea, the ingredients were ripe for something truly special, rather than meandering, inconsistent and jerky. It’s worth seeing, but it’s not worth awarding.

The Big Ones

Film Mafia now continues its prognostication and comment on the upcoming Event Of The Year. Comments welcome! And don’t forget to listen to the Movieland Podcast — click on the pic to your left.

Best Director and Best Picture

Alfonso!
Alfonso!

As seems to happen more and more these days, these two categories are gonna split. As Ang Lee got Best Director for the astonishing technical virtuosity of Tiger On A Boat, sorry – Life Of Pi, so too will Alfonso Cuarón win Best Director for Gravity. And so he should. Cuarón did this: he imagined the unfilmable – and then he filmed it. The director’s branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences all know this, and they’re going to give him the Oscar. It’s a lock. And so it should be…

Star Wars... not Best Picture.
Star Wars… not Best Picture.

But Gravity isn’t going to win Best Picture. It should, but it won’t. No matter how astonishing it is, it is Sci-Fi. Star Wars didn’t win, 2001: A Space Odyssey didn’t win. And those two, just like Gravity, deserved to win. Sci-Fi doesn’t win Best Picture at the Oscars.

2001... not Best Picture.
2001… not Best Picture.

You would think this left 12 Years A Slave for the Best Picture slot as a lock, but this isn’t necessarily the case. American Hustle is not just in the mix, it’s neck-a-neck. How can this be so? There are a few explanations. One is that 12 Years A Slave has a reputation of being a “difficult” watch because of “unprecedented brutality” (both unwarranted charges: Django Unchained was tougher in this regard – remember the Mandingo fight and the hot box?) The Academy’s membership remains at an average age of 63 years old. Some of those old geezers will simply not have watched the film. However, American Hustle is a breezy, easy watch, totally accessible to anyone, and will have been watched by everyone who got a screener (which is every single Academy member). This alone could easily put American Hustle onto the podium.

American Hustle... not just in the mix, but a 50/50 chance for The Big One.
American Hustle… not just in the mix, but a 50/50 chance for The Big One.

There’s also a brimming undercurrent of resentment – rarely vocalised but real enough – that America’s great slavery movie has been made by Britain (actually, America’s great slavery movie as made by America is Django Unchained). Director Steve McQueen is British, the cast is British. It’s a British movie about not only a uniquely American subject, but one that every single American is ashamed of. It’s kind of a fuck-you – or at least, is perceived by some as such.

By contrast, American Hustle is so American it even has “American” in the title.

Mcqueen... Too British?
Mcqueen… Too British?

So where to place your money on this one? I can’t call it. To me it’s a fifty-fifty between Slave and Hustle. If they were my awards to give (see the Movieland Awards elsewhere on this page) Gravity would win. But, if I had to give the award to Slave or Hustle, I’d give it to Slave. I loved them both, but a movie begins with the thought of making it, and I really appreciate that McQueen has taken an absolutely astonishing, fundamentally important historical text and given it the screen treatment it deserved, retaining its language, its idiosyncrasies (both main slavers are incredibly nuanced and strange as they are in the actual book) and its essential raison d’être, being the story of one man’s journey, as told by that man.f834f891-852d-428b-9aad-20113fe21194

But McQueen won’t be taking out that Best Director award. That’s all Cuarón.