"Inspired by true stories of daring women, told by a woman." The opening salvo of David O. Russell's Joy is important for its phrasing and confirmation of perspective. Just as Miracle Mop creator Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) was fiercely protective of her inventions and family, so too is the film of its female characters.
Narrated by Joy's grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), the story unfolds at a deliriously breakneck pace from the start. Living with her bed-ridden mother (Virginia Madsen), basement dwelling ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) and young daughter in a small home, Joy snappily moves between gender roles, taking care of everyone but herself.
We get a glimpse of the film's playfulness during an early flashback inspired by Mimi's words: "Time moves forward, time moves backward, time stands still." Considering his recent track record, O. Russell surprisingly doesn't infuse such a tender scene with overwrought seriousness.
Despite being about the stresses of engaging capitalism head on, Joy remains a film at ease. Its multi-talented heroine sees extraordinary opportunity in the frustrations of everyday life, developing the Miracle Mop to fulfill a glaring gap in the home goods market and her own economic necessity.
Joy clashes with various male figures, including her disapproving father (Robert De Niro) and a QVC home shopping executive (Bradley Cooper). Despite continually butting her head up against the glass ceiling, Joy refuses to stop moving forward. Lawrence brings a fierce sense of determination to the role that feels earned and true. She refuses to make the character a feminist martyr but dutifully respects her sacrifices nevertheless.
Funny, sometimes inert, but always heartfelt, Joy, which opens Friday, Dec. 25, balances tones without tumbling into sentimental waters. It's the rare biopic that doesn't feel grandiose or self-important, exploring bigger American themes through both the fantastic and mundane parts of a strong, well-fought life.
Campo de jogo: This stunning sports documentary focuses on a soccer tournament featuring teams from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Screens through Thursday, Dec. 31, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Carol: In 1950s New York City, a young department store clerk (Rooney Mara) begins an affair with a divorcee (Cate Blanchett) that challenges societal convention. Directed by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) and adapted from the novel The Price of Salt.
Concussion: In this biopic from director Peter Landesman, accomplished Pittsburgh pathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu (Will Smith) discovers the truth about brain injuries stemming from playing football.
Daddy’s Home: Will Farrell and Mark Walhberg battle over who can be the dad to… oh, who cares.
Hitchcock/Truffaut: Director and film critic Kent Jones weaves together footage from the famous interview sessions between Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut in this lovely documentary about cinematic style and film history. Screens through Thursday, Dec. 31, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Joy: A biopic about Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano (played by Jennifer Lawrence) tracing her ascent from poor single mother to mega-millionaire.
Point Break: A completely unnecessary remake of a great 1990s action film about a cop who infiltrates a gang of bank robbers. Get angry Gary Busey on the phone.
The Big Short: This satirical and detailed look at the corrupt tactics and procedures leading up to the American housing crisis in the 2000s stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling as Wall Street insiders who foresee the economic disaster. Opens Wednesday, Dec. 23.
The Hateful Eight: Quentin Tarantino’s darkly comedic western follows a pair of bounty hunters (Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell) who find nothing but pain while trapped in a mountain haberdashery.
One time only
Frozen: Let the kiddos sing the same old song, again and again. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
American Gypsy: A Stranger in Everybody’s Land: A lively and tumultuous look into the mysterious world of the American Gypsies. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 28, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.