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Lawrence chases the American dream in quirky 'Joy'
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Edgar Ramirez, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro star in Joy. - photo by Josh Terry
"JOY" 3 stars Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini; PG-13 (brief strong language); in general release

Joy is a fascinating journey celebrating the American dream while making compelling comments on feminism, capitalism and the long-suffering love of family.

Early on, Joy feels like a zany family comedy. After a prologue juxtaposing a silly, black-and-white soap opera sequence against a young girls real-life determination to be independent, we jump forward to the 1980s, where we meet Joy (Jennifer Lawrence), a young divorcee trying to rear two children in upstate New York.

She shares a home with two more generations of her family, including her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), who narrates the film, and her mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), who lives as a shut-in, obsessing over daily soap operas on television.

Joys ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez), lives in the basement, still convinced he has a career as a lounge singer, and as the film opens, he is joined by Joys father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), who has just been kicked out by his most recent girlfriend.

But Joy isnt all that interested in whether Tony and Rudy will survive as roommates. All the family dysfunction is actually the crucible from which a real-life biography is to be forged.

As it turns out, Joy is Joy Mangano, an entrepreneur who hit it big in the 80s with a number of domestic inventions. Her story gets rolling soon after Rudy begins dating Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), a wealthy widow who can finance Joys first major invention: a self-wringing mop with a washable detachable head. After persuading the shrewd Trudy to take her on, Joy follows her benefactor through the early, frightening stages of the business process.

But there is no fast track to success, and every stride forward is met with a crippling blow to crush Joys momentum. For example, Joy eventually manages to secure a pitch spot on an up-and-coming cable shopping channel called QVC, where she meets the equally shrewd Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper). But her big break quickly goes bad, and Joys rags-to-riches story encounters just one of several potential disasters.

This tale of a working-class woman trying to make it big is mirrored by images of Terrys soap operas (which star real-life soap veteran Susan Lucci), putting Joys quest for her American dream in relief.

The journey is a remarkable tale on its own, but the sharp writing and quirky execution of director David O. Russell give the material an elevated level of character. Russell has worked with Lawrence previously in 2013s American Hustle and 2012s Silver Linings Playbook, which netted Lawrence an Oscar. If shes to be the De Niro to his Martin Scorsese, shes got a great start. In Joy, Lawrence strikes a delicate balance between underdog vulnerability and no-nonsense determination.

As the story emerges from its quirky upstate New York roots onto a national stage, Joys tone changes as well, leaving audiences with an uneven experience. But even if it isnt a tightly woven product, Joy is still a story worth seeing regardless of whether youve ever had a great idea you wanted to sell to the world.

Joy is rated PG-13 for brief strong language; running time: 124 minutes.