Joy

Joy movie poster

Release: Christmas Day 2015

[Theater]

Written by: David O. Russell; Annie Mumolo

Directed by: David O. Russell

Does a movie have an obligation to become the very thing its title advertises? Should we feel duped if that title says one thing and then the story goes off and does something else?

No, Joy is not a movie about the emotion. It’s about the person who came up with the Miracle Mop. It’s a vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence post-Hunger Games. It’s depressing and frustrating and strange and cold and a lot of other things that don’t necessarily sell movie tickets. It’s about women’s empowerment, a tip of the hat to entrepreneurship and a Cliffs Notes guide on how to get a product patented. And right now it’s my favorite David O. Russell movie.

Lawrence’s rising starlet may not be the most convincing canvas upon which to base a portrait of struggling 1950s housewife Joy Mangano — there was a crowd of giggling teenaged girls in my screening, three of whom left about halfway in after realizing this wasn’t quite the movie they were expecting. But Lawrence did manage to turn a completely fictitious girl who could shoot arrows more accurately than William Tell and wore dresses that caught on fire into a living, breathing sensation that the world fell in love with. Why couldn’t America’s favorite twenty-something thespian take this role and own it too?

The story of Joy isn’t so unlike the story of anyone who has had to sacrifice most of themselves, including their own happiness, in order to support and care for others. In a time where gender inequality dictated employment opportunities for women, Joy shouldn’t necessarily be thought of as heroically selfless so much as being remarkably resilient, doing what she must to try to make ends almost meet . . . although there is something sort of heroic about having to endure these specific conditions.

She lives at home with her highly dysfunctional family: mother (Virginia Madsen), who never leaves her bedroom or turns off the TV; father, (Robert DeNiro) who has recently moved back in because it once again hasn’t worked out with his significant other; and Mimi (Diane Ladd), who at least provides some moral support. Joy also has two kids. Of course the house isn’t big enough for everyone and dad must share the basement with Anthony (Édgar Ramírez), Joy’s ex-husband, someone whom he doesn’t much care for. The family dynamic is hectic and its important we feel it. Although a rather unconvincing final scene overcompensates for the quagmire that has been Joy’s life up until that point — it’s 10 years on, she’s wealthy and her problems have all but disappeared — the movie proper really takes place in the first half.

Out of these humble, somewhat oppressive environs a billionaire inventor and businesswoman would emerge. Unfortunately she would be totally unprepared for the fiercely competitive nature of commerce. She enlists the help of her father and his new girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), who has a very strong business sense about her, to give her some financial backing and perhaps even some confidence that she could finally legitimately pursue her ambition of bringing an idea she had to the attention of the masses.

So, I guess I take it back. This movie really is about joy, but not in the way you might expect. This is a much subtler, less palpable sense of satisfaction, the kind that one might experience after selling their home but for a much, much lower price than they originally had asked. In what has been for sometime a difficult market to sell in, they should be pleased they sold at all. Lawrence proves once again she is wise beyond her years, shading a character that’s meant to be much older than the actress actually is with layers of humility, dignity, courage and a crumbling, though still existent, sense of humor. This kind of tough skinned exterior is tailor made for Lawrence, and it is a joy to behold once more.

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Recommendation: David O. Russell reunites with Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and DeNiro for the third consecutive film, though this one has much more modest ambitions than arguably either of his previous two projects. It’s particularly small compared to the likes of the hoopla surrounding American Hustle. The Lawrence faithful should warm to her character here while others are sure to gain some insight into how products are converted from pet projects into marketable items. Joy is fascinating on several levels.

Rated: R

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “Never speak on my behalf about my business again.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Amélie (2001)

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Our second stop this December on Throwback Thursday finds us head-over-heels in like (?) with a very unique girl. A hopeless romantic. A dreamer. A dream-weaver. Though this entry doesn’t strictly qualify as a film that spreads holiday cheer, it’s one that spreads cheer and is the definition of a feel-good film. It’s a testament to the combined strengths of the performances, some delicious cinematography and memorable visual effects that I was eventually won over by this film. I was so very tempted to shut this thing off after about 40 minutes as it is a rather slow journey. But by the end I was actually kind of moved. For the second time this month I’m having a new experience with  

Today’s food for thought: Amélie (2001).

Amelie minimalist poster

Romancing the City of Love since: November 2, 2001

[Netflix]

The City of Love dazzles and shines in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s fantastical portrait of a young girl touching the lives of many a downtrodden Parisian. It aches with a melancholy the warm yellow hues of Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography (he helped set the mood for Inside Llewyn Davis with his distinctly colder, bluer photography) help offset, but only just. There are people everywhere but not much life to be found. People are shells of their former selves, save for Amélie, who has grown up in a unique but largely unenviable way.

Her parents, both hard workers but far from ideal caretakers — her father, never spending much time with her, had his only daughter incorrectly diagnosed with a heart condition; mother, a bit of an emotionally cold person who sadly lost her life in a most bizarre manner — effectively isolated Amélie from social settings. She was homeschooled. Amélie’s upbringing created many challenges for her, but that didn’t stop her from being curious about the world of which she was a part.

After witnessing the news of the death of Princess Diana and coming to the realization that life is all too fleeting, she became hooked on the idea of spreading joy to other people’s lives. She hoped maybe she could help them improve their outlook and in so doing, make her life have meaning. She sets about helping an older man recover a box filled with all sorts of memories from his past; a reclusive artist learn how to socialize; a young boy overcome his circumstances working for a nasty, ungrateful boss at a corner market. She even starts working her magic at The Two Windmills, a small café she has been working at, playing Cupid for one of her co-workers who can never seem to attract the attention she longs for from a regular customer.

It’s strange that someone who suffered such a cruel childhood could grow up to become such a romantic and an eternally kind-hearted person. In fact this protagonist is so incongruent to the way in which the real world works she comes across as a character only a movie could create. Amélie is a little girl nobody really seems to pay much mind to, yet she’s larger than life. I found it difficult to buy into her blossoming as a young woman. Not to mention, the film takes an eternity to get to where it really wants to go. The first half of this picture is nothing short of a slog as it sets about establishing dynamics between these many other lost souls who have all, in some way, shape or form had their hearts turned to stone.

Despite the unlikeliness of this enigmatic personality, it’s something of a task to resist her charms. Amélie may crawl like molasses spilling forth from the jar but it’s this process of slow absorption that finally won me over. I just couldn’t help it. I mean, how can you not fall in love with this girl, the short-cut, jet-black-haired woman with a perpetual twinkle in her eye that suggests she’s up to something? Parts of her recall Macauley Culkin in Home Alone, what with her mischievous nature as she goes to lengths to make life a little more difficult for the people who deserve it, while sending a potential lover, Mathieu Kassovitz’s Nino, on a whimsical journey across the city, scattering clues all over in an attempt to win his heart and, in effect, make her first true connection to someone in the real world.

And this is what, for me, made Amélie often a challenge to root for. She can be so helpless. She’s been programmed not to make direct contact with others, despite her affinity for passing through their lives like wind through the leaves on a branch. As the reclusive Dufayel observed, unable to conceal his disdain: “she would rather imagine herself relating to an absent person than build relationships with those around her.” It’s not all her fault of course but at some point it’s less about her failure to make that contact as it is her fault that she fails to do so on so many different occasions. “For Pete’s sake, go and get him!”

Indeed the film is nothing if not a traditional love story, steeped in karmic and coincidental reality. Amélie seemed destined to help others, but — and the film is almost too conscious of it — she’d be a fool if she would forget about her own happiness in the process. As the film builds into a crescendo composed of the efforts she has made to brighten others’ days, it begins to gain an unwieldy belly that, for the most part sits content, but often can feel a bit overstuffed and bloated. Engorged on sugary romance. Part of me wants to say this film isn’t exactly my tasse de thé and if it weren’t for Tautou’s mesmerizing performance I would have never made it past those first 40 minutes.

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Recommendation: A film defined by its central performance, Amélie is one for romantics at heart and French cinema enthusiasts. While bearing some fantastical camera techniques that remind one of Charlie Kaufman, this is a decidedly more upbeat and optimistic film than anything he’s done. Entertaining, beguiling, entrancing. This is a pretty great movie and I was ultimately rewarded for committing to it.

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

TBTrivia: Of all the things this movie inspired, it wasn’t so much passionate love affairs, but rather the advertising campaign of Travelocity. Throughout the film, Amélie, in an attempt to inspire her shut-in father to get out and see the world, hatched a scheme wherein the family garden gnome would be sent to various famous international locales and have its picture taken and sent back to him. Hence, the Travelocity Gnome.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Inside Out

Release: Friday, June 19, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Pete Docter; Meg LeFauve; Josh Cooley

Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen

Spoiler alert: Inside Out is an emotional rollercoaster.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s another kicker: it’s being extremely well-received. But you probably already know that. Pixar’s latest can’t escape comparisons to the studio’s paragons of the late ’90s and early 2000s, and why should it even try? The likes of Toy Story and Up may have the nostalgia factor working for them but it’s hard to recall a(n animated) film that embraces such an abstract concept like trying to personify emotions while ostensibly marketing it to a young audience — an audience, mind you, who unfortunately may not fully appreciate the value thereof. Inside Out could very well be that rare experience where the attendant adult viewer gets more out of the film than their children.

Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) is 11 years old and her father has just taken a new job, relocating the family from the comforts of their Minnesota home, where she learned to play hockey, to the unfamiliar urban sprawl of San Francisco. The transitional period is ripe for displaying the emotional development of a child trying to come to terms with what’s happening to and around them.

For as long as Riley can remember, Joy (Amy Poehler) has defined who she is. But there are other feelings now coming into play: there’s Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (a perfectly cast Lewis Black). Inside Out jumps into the recesses of Riley’s mind to create an endearing, if not simplified, model for how emotions dictate our responses to certain situations. In crucial moments, it refocuses attention on Riley’s exterior as the emotions manifest themselves in her facial expressions.

Having been a part of Riley from a very early age, Joy likes to run things in ‘Headquarters.’ It’s never a good thing when Sadness happens to touch a memory, each of which are wrapped up in color-coded, spherical orbs that roll down a track and are stored on a kind of library shelf. The other emotions wittily banter amongst themselves, determined to find their roles. At headquarters they have at their disposal Riley’s core memories (look, but don’t touch!), and they oversee a landscape that includes five different personality ‘islands’ as well as Imagination Land, Abstract Thought and a revolving door of indefinable (at least to those without a degree in psychology) characters and features responsible for shaping Riley’s mental state. Perhaps the easiest one to embrace is the Train of Thought.

Inside Out balances out ambition with a focused, decidedly simplistic conflict. Once again Pete Docter proves that with profoundly touching, universal themes comes Pixar’s responsibility to present them with narrative clarity and an obligation to avoid convolution. Or boring the viewer with cliches and lazy execution. The internal struggle (literally and figuratively speaking) occurs when Joy and Sadness are ejected from Headquarters after Sadness touches one of Riley’s core memories, tinting it blue accordingly. In an effort to prevent further damage at the hands of Fear, Anger and Disgust who remain at the control center, the unlikely pair must journey across this whacky landscape and restore balance. In the process, Joy realizes that she’s not the only emotion with a crucial role to play in the shaping of Riley’s future; every emotion is necessary. Even Sadness.

Laden with gorgeous animation and sparky personality — Black may be the best suited to his character given his generally blustery personality — Inside Out manages to strike rare emotional depths with its portrayal of a young child torn between feeling hopeless and hopeful. San Francisco, particularly her first day at her new school, throws her a curveball she’s not ready to swing at. And yet, thanks to the film’s unique perspective, we see she’s ultimately equipped with the tools to overcome. This is the stuff that perhaps those who have already endured the turbulence of childhood will identify with easier. But let’s get one thing straight: moving, at any phase in one’s life, is a challenge. And before you believe the film has covered all the bases, it hints at the next major stepping stone: adolescence.

Of course, younger viewers come to see animated films for more than the bright, shiny colors and goofy characters. They come to entertain their imagination, to laugh and feel all kinds of feely things, physical manifestations they can’t exactly explain for themselves. Kids understand well enough that Andy moving on from Buzz and Woody and all of his toys doesn’t create the best feeling in the world; they feel melancholic and maybe even pure sadness.

Inside Out boldly tackles that very phenomenon, breaking new ground by defining and giving character to core emotions that will eventually (and hopefully) transform generally happy children into well-adjusted adults. The ambition is probably too much for a lot of younger viewers to grasp, and I don’t mean to imply that they aren’t smart enough to get it. It’s just too natural to think that the average 11 year old won’t appreciate that Inside Out is an uncommonly perceptive production. They won’t realize how lucky they are to have a film like this at their disposal, at least not until they’ve grown up a bit more.

Recommendation: An emotional masterpiece, Inside Out gives some of the studio’s finest a run for their money in terms of conceptual complexity and character depth. Give this one a few years and making comparisons among Pixar’s classics will become an even more interesting conversation. Take your kids to see it of course, but be prepared for a quality and moving experience yourself. This is a film loaded with surprises. One of my favorites of the year. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “All right, make a show of force. I don’t want to have to put the foot down . . .” / “No, not the foot!” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

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