Tag Archives: David O’Russell

Joy (2015)

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David O’Russell must really love Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. The latest collaboration of this celebrated trio is Joy, a loosely based biopic on the life of American inventor Joy Mangano. While it is a solid film fueled by yet another Academy Award-nominated performance by Jennifer Lawrence, it’s also clear that Joy is a much weaker motion picture than Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. And I t’s not even a debate.

It’s hard to review Joy without discussing Mangano’s life, and I suppose certain details may be considered spoilers if you’ve never heard of her or see the trailer (or even just the poster). But since this is Spoiler-Free Reviews, I’m just going to assume that you don’t know anything at all other the basic premise: Joy is a single mother struggling to make ends meet while taking care of everyone in her family from her parents (played by Robert De Niro and Virginia Madsen) to her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez). And yet, she still dreams big, and as the opening caption of the film will tell you, she is an inspirational woman.

As such, there is a sense of inevitability about the movie even if you don’t know who Joy Mangano is. She goes through plenty of heartache and frustration and despair, but you do get the sense that everything will eventually be okay in the end. Credit to O’Russell for still keeping the story relatively intriguing, with moments of hard-hitting drama and tension — though very little comedy, which begs the question why it is listed as a comedy-drama and was nominated as a comedy at the Golden Globes (I guess if The Martian is a comedy then any movie could be one too). The pacing could have been better, as it does drag at times and feels longer than its already-long 124-minute running time.

The Academy must also love Jennifer Lawrence because I’m not sure her performance in Joy was one of the top 5 female performances of the year. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really really good, probably top 10, as she completely drives the movie from start to finish, though I still got the feeling that she was probably miscast — she simply looks too young and fresh-faced to be totally convincing as a single mother of three who has lived a really hard life.

Apart from Lawrence, the rest of the supporting cast deliver fine performances as well. It’s more or less expected when you have the likes of De Niro, Bradley Cooper and Isabella Rossellini on the roster. However, Lawrence is the clear standout, and despite my misgivings about the suitability of her casting, she gives it everything she has to elevate the movie above what it otherwise would have been in less capable hands.

This is not Lawrence’s fault, but I also felt the film was lionising the protagonist a little too much. Joy is practically a saint in this movie and it never changes despite some really nasty stuff happening to her. It may be all true, but it would have been nice to see more “human” emotions from her character to keep it interesting.

Overally, Joy is a solid and occasionally very good biographical drama thanks to the direction of O’Russell and a great performance from Lawrence. The problems I had with it perhaps lay more with the script than anything else. It’s an inspirational story, but it’s one that also feels overlong and somewhat repetitive in that it keeps putting Joy down so that we can all feel the joy (pun intended) when things finally start going right for her. The result is O’Russell’s least impressive effort in recent years, though by most other standards it’s still a pretty enjoyable film.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: American Hustle (2013)

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The highly anticipated American Hustle reunites acclaimed director David O’Russell (Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter) with the stars from his two previous films, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and Christian Bale and Amy Adams – and the result is arguably his best film yet.

Set in the late 1970s, the movie is very very loosely based on a true story, thus prompting the line “Some of this actually happened” at the beginning of the film. I don’t want to give the plot away, so I’ll just provide a basic premise by saying that Christian Bale and Amy Adams play a pair of low-level con men (or should that be con people?) who bite off a little more than they can chew when they team up with Bradley Cooper. Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s wife and Jeremy Renner plays a mayor. The brilliant cast is topped off by the likes of Louis CK, Michael Pena and Robert De Niro.

As the title suggests (it was originally titled American Bullshit), the film is all about scamming people in an era when people are a little more naïve and trusting than they are now. It’s technically an entertaining caper drama, but American Hustle is also one of the sharpest, wittiest and funniest black comedies of the year. Though they are very different movies, the offbeat tone of the film is similar to Silver Linings Playbook, so if you enjoyed that you’ll love this.

The wonderful characters are what make American Hustle such a pleasure to watch, and each of them stand out in their own way. The film is almost like an intertwining collection of fascinating character studies, and what’s more is that the chemistry between all of them is amazing — the way they play off each other, react to each other and talk to each other. Just rapid fire nuggets of gold all the way.

Christian Bale is his usual solid self, but again went the extra mile by piling on the pounds and shaving part of his head to make himself look like a fatty with an elaborate comb-over. He is the only man in Hollywood who can go from this:

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Empire of the Sun (1987)

To this:

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American Psycho (2000)

To this:

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The Machinist (2004)

To this:

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Batman Begins (2005)

 To this:

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The Fighter (2010)

To this:

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

And now to this:

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American Hustle (2013)

Bradley Cooper is as good as he was in Silver Linings Playbook, and I think Amy Adams has never been better. Of the three leads she is probably the one likeliest to win an Oscar.

I am of course biased about this, but I reckon Jennifer Lawrence absolutely stole the show. She is just magnificent, so natural, so delightful, so hilarious; a laugh a second and full of impact in every scene she’s in. Jeremy Renner delivers an understated but important performance, and Michael Pena’s comedic chops shine through despite few words. I was ready to call this the best ensemble cast of the year and I didn’t even know Robert De Niro and Louis CK were in it!

The film is arguably a little too long at 138 minutes, but the script is tight and the dialogue razor sharp. O’Russell’s direction is enthusiastic and vibrant and again, the performances are just ridiculous. I don’t doubt that it is the best ensemble cast of any film in 2013, and I expect a load of Oscar nominations coming the film’s way. The film has already garnered 7 Golden Globe nominations, with O’Russell’s direction and screenplay and the four leads all earning nods along with the film itself.

I don’t know if the film will win Best Picture or if it will go down as a borderline classic, but American Hustle is certainly one of the best films of the year. A pure joy to watch.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: It also has probably the best soundtrack of the year!