Genre: Drama

Director: David O. Russell

Screenplay: David O. Russell, based on a story by Annie Mumolo and David O. Russell

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Rohm, Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd, Dascha Polanco

Running Length:  124 minutes

Synopsis: Joy is the wild story of a family across four generations centered on Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right. Betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love, pave the road in this intense emotional and human comedy about becoming a true boss of family and enterprise facing a world of unforgiving commerce.

Review: If not for the interesting (true but heavily fictionalized) story of Joy Mangano and a riveting central performance by Jennifer Lawrence as the rags-to-riches businesswoman, Joy would have been a much more joyless affair to watch. This is David O. Russell’s first movie centred entirely on a female character, but Erin Brockovich this is not. It’s almost as though O. Russell is unable to make up his mind about how to go about making this “biopic” and the wild tonal and narrative shifts actually detract quite a bit from the cinematic experience.

The ensemble sequences and sprawling narrative in Joy don’t work as well as in O. Russell’s previous films, and his tendency of putting everyone in an enclosed space, shouting at one another really grates after a while. There are also odd surrealist moments that are absolutely unnecessary, jarring viewers out of the moment and probably scratching their heads in puzzlement. Even though many of O. Russell’s alumni make a return in the film, the sparks simply fail to fly in many of the interactions, because the characters are basically reduced to plot-forwarding caricatures this time round.

There is a glorious 30 minutes in Joy in which everything actually comes together, and that is the sequence which traces her first interaction with TV studio exec Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) to when she makes her first live pitch on QVC. Lawrence’s transformation from unsure inventor to QVC pitchwoman is indeed magical, and her performance really sells it very well. Jennifer Lawrence has established herself as one of the best young actresses around, and her credible and sympathetic turn as Joy Mangano is yet another feather in her cap, though it’s not her best performance thus far.

Unfortunately, after the high of the QVC sequence, the film never finds a sure footing again, with the denouement feeling uncharacteristically rushed (case in point – a haircut is the sole visual shorthand O. Russell employs to signify the change and growth of Joy in a pivotal scene) and somehow inconsequential. While still a sporadically entertaining film, Joy doesn’t measure up to the previous efforts of O. Russell and feels like a rare misstep for the director.

Rating: ** ½ (out of four stars)


The Forest

Genre: Horror

Director: Jason Zada

Screenplay: Sarah Cornwell, Nick Antosca, Ben Ketai

Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken

Running Length: 94 minutes

Synopsis: The story is set in the Aokigahara Forest, a real-life place in Japan where people go to end their lives. Against this backdrop, a young American woman comes in search of her twin sister, who has mysteriously disappeared. Despite everyone’s warnings not to “stray from the path”, Saraa (Natalie Dormer) dares to enter the forest to discover the truth about her sister’s fate.

Review: For horror aficionados, The Forest does not bring anything new to the table – it is a run of the mill horror film that, whilst showing some promise and serving up some decent “boo” moments in the first hour, completely unravels in its final reel. While no one expects new ground to be broken in a genre as well-covered as the haunted house (in this case a haunted forest, which isn’t exactly new either), at the very least the film should deliver a coherent plot and a proper denouement. Both are unfortunately missing in The Forest (pun not intended).

While it really may not be the best idea in the world to follow your missing twin sister into a “suicide forest” in Japan (which is a  genuine location, by the way), it’s a somewhat interesting premise to base a horror movie on. Unfortunately, the plot of The Forest is severely muddled, and the film concludes with multiple plot threads still hanging in mid-air, which diminishes the horror element simply because audiences are left puzzling over these plot points than focusing on the horror. For example, it is never clear if there is indeed a presence in the forest that is actively seeking out new victims, or if it is simply an outward manifestation of one’s internal demons.

Natalie Dormer tries her best to put forth a convincing performance, but we’ve definitely seen better work from her elsewhere. Since almost the entire film is focused on Sara, it is almost irrelevant that she is playing two characters in the film (conveniently – and some would say lazily – demarcated by different hair colours). While she does a great job looking scared, there’s very little depth of character to be seen.  Taylor Kinney is ostensibly the romantic interest in the film but comes across as a dimensionless character existing solely to advance the plot at key points in the film.

There’s a sense that too much of The Forest has been left on the cutting room floor – there are moments in which an almost good horror film seems to be peeking out from behind the obfuscated plotting, but the speed at which the film hurtles towards its confusing, unsatisfying conclusion seems to suggest that given a different edit, The Forest would have had more of a fighting chance to leave a positive impression.

Rating: * ½  (out of four stars)