(David O. Russell, USA, 2015)
There is laudable restraint to be found here, as though Russell were attempting to dial down the razzmatazz of American Hustle and thin the more maudlin elements of Silver Linings Playbook. By elevating the role of fantasy in his formal toolkit, Russell breaks new ground, and as usual, his work with actors is excellent. But the film doesn't entirely deliver on the emotional and psychological depths it promises. Lawrence, as game and as focused as ever, seems at times to be outpaced by Russell's still-present propulsiveness, and the piling-on of personal and professional setbacks she faces left me enervated rather than enthralled. Russell has made an interesting body of work; the cerebral screwball antics of his earlier career have been dampened by a taste for bigger, more emotionally tender stories, with all of the pitfalls that such stories can entail. The balancing act he's exhibited is a model of calculation, and my hat is off to him, even if I don't always love the end result. The Fighter is still his most fully-realized latter day film, bristling with the vitality born of both necessity and desire.
Joy's fusion of Cinderella and Scarface, set against the hardscrabble America that Russell seems to know well, is fascinating as a concept but gets lost in the tonal ambiguities of the telling. It feels both lighthearted and brutal, severe and whimsical. And it misses the more trenchant feel for politics that Russell exhibited earlier in his career. Here, Joy's capture of capitalism's brass ring - financial bonanza, the mansion on Long Island, zillions of units sold - is treated with a curious lack of skepticism, as though to cast any doubt on her dreams of massive entrepreneurial success would be unfair to this strong, loving, determined woman. But this is a missed opportunity, leaving the film to float in its snow-globe fantasy, blocked from a louder, stranger, more vivid engagement with the world of its characters, and the world of its audience.