Based on a true story, a typical O. Russell will feature one of his all-stars (Mark Wahlberg, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams) playing someone with a dream they've never really had a chance to live. This is due in part to their difficult family who have problems with neurosis and/or addiction. With the help of a friend or love interest, the lead character will reach the top against all odds in one of the cinematic year's 'feel good' moments. The movie is both devastating and hilarious in equal measure. Christian Bale will probably show up at some point having mutilated his body for the role.
As formulaic as his films may be, the director has a pretty great track record, with The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle all brilliant and deservedly decorated.
In the case of Joy, Jennifer Lawrence plays real life inventor Joy Mangano who, as a child, was incredibly creative. Due to to her staying home to help her parents through their divorce instead of going to college, and her mum refusing to patent her self-releasing dog collar, she didn't quite live up to her potential. After cutting her hands wringing a mop full of broken glass, she has the idea of the self-wringing mop and looks to her father's eccentric, wealthy girlfriend to invest in selling them as a business.
Unlike the families in O. Russell's hits, Joy's family are pretty unlikeable. Her mother, father and sister are all completely self-involved. Unfortunately, some of the 'good characters' don't work like the creepily saccharine grandmother who narrates the movie throughout. Although her family aren't fun to be around, it does help you empathise with Joy. By the fourth time her sister brings up her own business ideas, you're rolling your eyes with Joy and thinking "here we fucking go with the business ideas again."
This, along with Lawrence's terrific performance, makes you really feel for Joy, so when things do go well for her, it is brilliant. It's the feel good moment of the year. You really care how well Joy's mop does on QVC. That's right. This movie makes you give a shit about QVC. Just like O. Russell made you give a shit about dancing contests and boxing championships.
Though the film is at times a trudge and the voiceover is truly grating, there are a few bizarrely funny scenes and, like O. Russell always does, he knocks it out of the park in creating real moments of (I'm so, so sorry) Joy.