Even David O. Russell's weaker films are interesting and fairly idiosyncratic in that they challenge viewers to work a little harder than they must for conventional film fare. Such is the case with Russell's Joy, which stars his usual posse of players -- Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. Russell seems drawn to stories about failed (or failing) people whose lives are truly studies in interpersonal conflict and complication. These characters are mostly sympathetic, like the hardworking divorced mother of two of this film's title, but the lead character's gullibility or greed or lack of healthy boundaries makes them also a bit tarnished and pitiful. Joy (Lawrence) is an imaginative, resourceful but duty-bound young woman, locked into familial commitments but struggling, when she has time, to find a way to make her life less miserable. She gets loving encouragement from her grandmother (Diane Ladd) but little from the other members of her family -- her insensitive father (De NIro), self-involved mother (Virginia Madsen) or envious half-sister (Elizabeth Rohm). Her stargazing, under-employed ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) offers her moral support and little else that's bankable. Joy's ingenuity leads her to design a product that she fully expects will change the lives of American housekeepers and, ultimately, her own. But, alas, her plans for financial independence are threatened by the world of commerce, which she, frankly, doesn't understand and swindlers eager to take advantage of her ignorance. Russell's Joy is an often entertaining but not entirely satisfying fable about a modern woman who refuses to succumb to circumstances or the limitations of the imaginations around her. Recommended.


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