Joy, David O. Russell's latest madcap collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence (and Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro), announces itself as "inspired by true stories of daring women." Then the title card adds: "One in particular."

That particular woman is Joy Mangano, who, in the late 1980s, started peddling her homemade invention, a self-wringing mop, in supermarket parking lots, and - breakthrough moment - on the QVC cable shopping channel. The Miracle Mop took off, to say the least, but as Russell's screenplay tells it, it was anything but a smooth launch. Joy's entry into the world of entrepreneurship has the crazy trajectory of a rocket gone haywire, and Russell's movie is kind of haywire, too.

On the heels of Russell's head-spinning and wonderful Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, in which Lawrence proved her mettle, and proved she could spar with the best of them, Joy gives the actress her own story to run with. It's not a love story, not a story of political corruption, scammery, and greed, but the story of a girl from Long Island, sprung from a dizzyingly dysfunctional family, who, in the wake of a divorce, with two kids and a history of frustrating jobs, finds her true calling: making stuff, and selling the hell out of it.

Lawrence burns with intensity here, so much so that you can almost see the brushfires she's leaving behind on the trail. Shoulders slung back, eyes fierce, the actress is never less than riveting. But for the first time in a long time (maybe 2004's messy, loony I Heart Huckabees), it's Russell who seems not altogether sure how to proceed. The director, working with a big cast and a multigenerational yarn - the grandmom (Diane Ladd), the mom (Virginia Madsen), the dad (De Niro), the dad's new gal (Isabella Rossellini), the two-bit lounge singer spouse (Édgar Ramírez) - toggles around, throwing a parallel black-and-white soap-opera scenario and several slam-bang blowups into the mix.

By the time Joy arrives at the QVC studios for her tryout, she's out of breath, figuratively speaking. It's at the home-shopping facility in West Chester, Pa., that Cooper's Neil Walker works, running the studios and making sure folks like Joan Rivers rack up the big sales.

Still, even ADD Russell is more entertaining, more engrossing, than most of the movies out there. The guy knows how to match the right (period) tune with the right dramatic moment (the Bee Gees, the Rolling Stones, Ella Fitzgerald), and he knows how to give his actors room to improvise, to find those moments of exhilarating alchemy.

A kind of fractured fairy tale with a feminist ethic, Joy is a great story, great fun. It's also kind of a mess, but who's complaining?



Joy *** (Out of four stars)


Directed by David O. Russell. With Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, and Diane Ladd. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.

Running time: 2 hours, 4 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, adult themes).

Playing at: Area theaters.EndText