We know Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” series and as Mystique in the “X-Men” films but in “Joy,” as self-wringing mop entrepreneuse Joy Mangano, she finally plays a superhero worth celebrating.
Joy is a high school valedictorian and precocious dog collar inventor who suddenly finds herself with two kids and a little less than her whole life ahead of her.
Director David O. Russell worked with Lawrence on “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” two frustratingly overfull films larded with frantic energy and some small charms. “Joy” is the execution of a simpler plan: put Jennifer Lawrence in front of the camera for the whole film, piling close up upon close up.
From her first moment onscreen, she outshines the lesser lights, from her father (Robert De Niro) to her wannabe Tom Jones ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) to her wannabe David O. Selznick business partner (Bradley Cooper). They’re all handsome and well-stubbled and totally pushed aside by Lawrence, who only wants to be Joy, the maker of new worlds.
And, in spite of the wattage of the male luminaries, the film is defiantly matrilineal — Joy’s story is lovingly narrated by her grandmother (Diane Ladd), her home is anchored by her soap-opera-addicted mother (Virginia Madsen) and she gives furious life lessons to her daughter (her son is intentionally framed out of many shots). “Joy” provides a keen critique of received roles for women, who are expected to watch soaps all day and switch over to QVC in the evening.
Lawrence’s performance is of the highest order — she commands the camera with her hair and hands and especially her eyes, which are all flashing pulsar, pupils enormous at night and pinpricks in daylight. When Joy has trouble selling her mop she follows her own best advice, “I want to go out as me.”
Russell begins the film with visuals that wink at “Citizen Kane” though, in the course of time, Joy matches the brilliance of Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.”
Just as his star tries to corner the market on kitchen products, Russell has wisely cornered the market on Jennifer Lawrence’s dreams — as Joy’s grandmother says: “She made many beautiful things.” In fact, Lawrence shines so brightly that she’s compelled to put on sunglasses, for our safety — otherwise we might go on watching her all night like our favorite soap opera, like the Home Shopping Network at 3 a.m., her face in an endless loop, like one of the continuous strands of cotton on her patented mop.
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“Joy” is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 2:04. Visit www.cinemawest.com.