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Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro Take a 'Joy' Ride

The 'Silver Linings' cast reunites in a quirky family drama

(Video) 'Joy' Movie Trailer: Joy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Diane Ladd, Jennifer Lawrence, Virginia Madsen

A kaleidoscopic vision of creativity, ambition and family dysfunction, Joy is a wild and sometimes disorienting ride — but a joy nevertheless.

When it comes to film biographies, you've got your conventional chronological ones (Trumbo), your hopscotch-among-the-essential-episodes ones (Steve Jobs) — and then there's Joy, writer-director David O. Russell's dreamily quirky take on the life of Joy Mangano, the woman who became a cable TV sensation selling her self-wringing Miracle Mop.

Jennifer Lawrence stars in 'Joy'

Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

Jennifer Lawerence stars in 'Joy'

Jennifer Lawrence (finally freed of having to play a perpetual teenager in the Hunger Games series) stars as Joy, a fiercely imaginative divorced mother who can't help but envision new household inventions. She dreams of becoming rich from them — despite repeated votes of no-confidence from her loving but decidedly non-visionary father (Robert De Niro), who is in the sheet metal industry.

The women in Joy's life are no founts of encouragement, either. Her cranky sister (Elisabeth Rohm) has big-business ambition but no vision. Her mother (Virginia Madsen) stays in bed all day glued to soap operas, imagining herself as part of the bodice-ripping action.

Happily, Joy does have her adoring grandmother, played with soft voice and glistening eyes by Diane Ladd. As we see in the film's prologue, it's her grandmother — seemingly all too aware of the family's dead-end tendencies — who first plants the seeds of ambition in young Joy's mind. The relationship between the two, warm as a hearth, delicate as a snowflake, is the single most engaging element of Joy.

Of course, Joy overcomes her familial barriers, packs her prototype in her car and drives to Pennsylvania to present her crowning invention to the chief programmer of the QVC shopping network. Lucky for us, he's played by Bradley Cooper, thus pleasantly shattering any expectations we had of a typical QVC shopping network executive. As they did in Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence and Cooper make an appealing couple — even though in this case they spend almost as much time in opposition to each other as they do as allies.

Befitting the title, the film is seen almost entirely through Joy's eyes — she also provides occasional commentary along the way. As played by Lawrence, Joy is a woman with a wildly careening mind who is nevertheless fixated on singular success. Likewise, the film shoots off in any number of directions — family drama, wacky character comedy, corporate history, TV satire — while never losing its focus on the remarkable woman at its center.

If Joy is not quite up to Russell's recent instant classics Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, he still manages to take the raw ingredients of mismatched protagonists to create something touching and often uproarious. Joy may be the story of the exceptional woman who invented the Miracle Mop — but the heartstrings Russell plucks are universal.

Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.