Posted on December 24, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015

Jennifer Lawrence is “Joy,” reuniting with her “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook” #squad, director David O. Russell and co-stars Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper. She plays real-life consumer products inventor and television sales mogul Joy Mangano, who lived something of a Cinderella story — if the fairy godmother was the QVC shopping channel.

The film is something of a mess. It never quite comes together, but some of the individual pieces are marvelous, especially the performances by Lawrence, radiant in her first adult lead (though she still seems too young to have those children), Virginia Madsen as Joy’s dotty mother, De Niro as her father, and Isabella Rossellini as his wealthy new girlfriend. Cooper has so much magnetism as a QVC executive that his tour of the network’s revolving studio provides one of the best moments. He is so good it misdirects us about where the movie is going and leaves us feeling vaguely cheated.

Russell, who so savagely took out after both consumer culture and at those who attack it for the most superficial reasons in the underrated “I Heart Huckabees,” cannot seem to settle into a point of view beyond the idea that the woman with the almost-too-on-the-nose name has the ingenuity and what used to be called moxie to overcome obstacles that include massive family dysfunction and business partners who bully and defraud her. It emphasizes her ability as an inventor and her determination but loses track of the storyline with confusing sequencing and superfluous narration. When a prospective funder asks her if she would be willing to pick up a (possibly metaphorical) gun to protect her invention, she says she would. And when she is turned down, she keeps coming back. But the primary factors in the success of her product are a chance connection and a much-too-convenient discovery of incriminating evidence. The most interesting elements of the story are abruptly glossed over (What? Who sued her?). And lovingly staged episodes from Joy’s mother’s favorite soap opera (starring real-life soap stars including Susan Lucci) are not nearly as entertaining or illuminating as they are intended to be.

Joy has monumental obstacles to overcome and Russell clearly considers her heroic, but there is a heightened gloss on the story that keeps us at a remove. A moment of particular triumph is truncated and artificial and the narration is clumsy and intrusive. “In America,” Cooper’s character tells us, “the ordinary meets the extraordinary every day.” But in this movie, that meeting is awkward, and the result is buyer’s remorse.

Parents should know that this movie includes themes of family conflict and dysfunction, corrupt, thuggish, and fraudulent behavior, some sexual references, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Joy keep taking care of everyone in her family? What did Neil mean about staying friends? What invention would you like to create?

If you like this, try: “Erin Brockovich”

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