PG-13, 124 minutes, 20th Century Fox): David O. Russell’s latest madcap collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence (and Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro) tells the story of Joy Mangano, who, in the late 1980s, started peddling her homemade invention, a self-wringing mop, in supermarket parking lots, and on the QVC cable shopping channel. The Miracle Mop took off, to say the least, but as Russell’s screenplay tells it, it was anything but a smooth launch. Joy’s entry into the world of entrepreneurship has the crazy trajectory of a rocket gone haywire, and Russell’s movie is kind of haywire, too.
“Joy” is the story of a girl from Long Island, sprung from a dizzyingly dysfunctional family, who, in the wake of a divorce, with two kids and a history of frustrating jobs, finds her true calling: making stuff, and selling the hell out of it.
Lawrence burns with intensity here, so much so that you can almost see the brushfires she’s leaving behind on the trail. Shoulders slung back, eyes fierce, the actress is never less than riveting. But for the first time in a long time, it’s Russell who seems not altogether sure how to proceed. The director, working with a big cast and a multigenerational yarn, toggles around, throwing a parallel black-and-white soap-opera scenario and several slam-bang blowups into the mix.
A kind of fractured fairy tale with a feminist ethic, “Joy” is a great story, great fun. It’s also kind of a mess, but who’s complaining?
Contains brief strong language.
(PG-13, 110 minutes, Lionsgate): The latest book-turned-film from author Nicholas Sparks has all the hallmarks of almost every other movie based on the best-selling writer’s romance novels.
The film tells the complicated love story of Travis (Benjamin Walker), a smooth-talking veterinarian used to getting his way, and Gabby (Teresa Palmer), an uptight, career-focused medical student. They begin as neighbors, their meet-cute precipitated by Travis playing his music a little too loudly while Gabby is hitting the books. Her reaction to his transgression sets the tone for their relationship throughout the film: she, overreacting and emotional; he, calm and charming.
One of the biggest problems with the film is this very dynamic: Although Palmer and Walker do seem to have natural chemistry, Palmer’s acting is so overripe that it seems as though every sentence Gabby speaks ends with an exclamation point. This makes Travis’s sudden, deep interest in her somewhat unbelievable.
Metaphors in the film are used as big, blinking neon signs: He’s a one-chair kind of guy, but he put out a second one. And logic and natural pacing go out the window, despite a nearly two-hour run time.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know there’s a car accident that leaves Gabby hooked up to medical equipment – a plot point that propels the last third of the film. Consequently, the film relies on Walker to supply much of the heavy lifting, acting-wise, from that point on. He’s an able lead, strong but subtle in his emotional scenes. (It’s not a true Sparks movie unless you tear up, and you will.)
Contains sensuality and some mature thematic material.
‘The 5th Wave’
(PG-13, 112 minutes, Sony): A largely silly sci-fi action-thriller with a wobbly narrative based on the bestselling young adult novel by Rick Yancey.
A landlocked Ohio suburb is apparently the Earth’s safest place after an ill-defined alien invasion wreaks havoc on every island and coastal spot on the globe. The mayhem comes in waves, but it’s that pesky “5th wave” that surviving Buckeyes must prepare to battle – if they can only figure out what’s coming their way. To that end, a “Soylent Green is people”-type revelation provides fleeting intrigue and a few twists. But it’s insufficiently mined in the clunky script.
At the epicenter is Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz), an average high school student with loving parents (Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff), an adoring kid brother, Sam (Zackary Arthur), and a crush on dreamy classmate, Ben (Nick Robinson).
When the aliens strike and tragedy hits home, Cassie remarkably turns all teen-Terminator. Cassie’s soon tearing through the local rubble in search of little Sam, from whom she’s become separated in a predictable scene involving a forgotten teddy bear.
Meanwhile, the no-nonsense Col. Vosch (Liev Schreiber) and his even tougher second, Col. Reznik (a nearly unrecognizable Maria Bello), draft bands of young folks to undergo military-style training to combat the aliens or “the others.” It all plays very phony baloney.
Contains violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying.
Also out on May 3
- “A Royal Night Out”
- “Hyena Road”
- “400 Days”
- “The Last Ship: Season 2”