Editing in movies is a defensive job — if it’s done well, you don’t notice, but if you do notice, it’s because something went wrong, and something went very badly wrong with Joy.
The movie is a biopic — it’s not a biopic, writer/director David O. Russell wanted to create a movie that was “half-fiction.” We’ll get into that later — The movie is a non-biopic about Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence, Isabella Crovetti-Cramp in child scenes), the entrepreneur who invented the self-wringing Miracle Mop in 1992. She currently holds more than 100 patents and brings in more than $150 million per year for HSN, where she sells her wares personally. The movie goes through her invention of the mop and her difficulties selling it, from direct-response salesmen who couldn’t work the product to fraudulent manufacturers.
Almost every scene in this movie has a baffling editing decision. Sometimes it’s as simple — and catastrophic — as clipping a line or an establishing shot, but there are more complex gaffs, too. In the first scene, before the first lines of the movie are spoken, there are two separate musical numbers which clash both with each other and the shot, and then there’s some narrating on top of that. In the very first shot, this movie is trying to go two or three different directions at once. The suspect decisions are so prevalent they even made it into the film’s marketing material, such as the scene at 2:00 of this trailer, where it seems like Lawrence forgets her line in the middle of the take. In the movie and the first version of this trailer, it goes on even longer.
The trailer is also a good example of the tonal chaos this movie mires itself in with the poor post-production decisions. There’s a different song every 10 seconds or so, and while that makes for a bad trailer, it’s normal. It’s not normal for a movie, and Joy changes its own pace with almost every scene, and sometimes even within the scene. The movie feels like it’s simply throwing scenes at the audience to see what sticks.
The movie’s editing was done by a four-man team — Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Tom Cross and Christopher Tellefsen, all of whom have resumes going back to the late ’90s at least that feature recent best editing nominations, and a win for Cross on last year’s Whiplash. Experience wasn’t the issue. Maybe a too many cooks situation?
More likely, given that a lot of the decisions seem to come from the overarching idea of the movie, the kind that comes from a writer/director, the problem was Russell. This is his fourth movie in a six-year string of Oscar bait that has mostly been pretty decent, so that doesn’t make much sense as an explanation either.
However, it is known that his concept for this movie’s writing was half-baked. Russell wanted to create a movie that was “half-fiction,” taking elements from Mangano’s life but mostly something of his own creation. There are a lot of movies like that that are non-biopics — Citizen Kane is famously about William Randolph Hearst, for instance — but it doesn’t work here because it’s so muddy. The best biopics are highly fictionalized performances of their subjects’ lives, bending fact in places for the convenience of story, but normally with a distinct pattern. The year’s best biopic, Steve Jobs, for example, portrays ostensibly true events and fictionalizes their proximity to each other. The story is true, the performance is fiction, and there’s no question about which is which or why. Joy is a mildly fictionalized account of some events that happened and some that didn’t, with no clear pattern between what is fact and what is made up. It’s a mess. It feels like what happened was Russell had half an idea for his own story and filled the rest in with the details of someone else’s life, which is a lazy and really flippant thing to do if that’s the case.
Lawrence has been the most powerful woman in Hollywood since the first Hunger Games movie, and she can’t help but show why in every movie she’s in. She puts a certain fire in all her characters’ bellies, one that audiences can’t get enough of, and it comes out almost accidentally in Joy. It’s a shame actors are in such low-leverage positions, given that she’s the biggest part of the production that doesn’t seem to have simply laid an egg.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. You’re wrong, it WAS funny the first time! I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.