Three Christmas Misfires: “Joy,” “The Danish Girl” and “Daddy’s Home”

I was all ready to give each of the movies, below, a full review, but then holiday travel got in the way, and I realized that they none of them deserve the effort, despite the (misguided) attention that Eddie Redmayne has been getting for one of them. Here are my very brief takes – one-paragraph capsule reviews – of each film:

Joy

Joy (David O. Russell, 2015)

Based on the life of Joy Mangano and the development of her Miracle Mop (which she sold, initially, on television), directed by David O. Russell (American Hustle) and starring Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) as Joy, this movie should have been good. Russell is the master of the unorthodox, frequently mixing tones and styles to great effect. Here, he just creates a mismatched mish-mash, where 90% of the story is a maudlin treatise on what is wrong with Ms. Mangano’s family (possibly the worst one in the world), and the other 10% is a lively portrayal of the workings of the then-nascent (in the 1980s) QVC Network. Sadly, there is no connection between those two parts, though the oddity of the details presented in the family section promises one, making the lack thereof even more frustrating. Many good actors – Diane Ladd (Rambling Rose), Virginia Madsen (Sideways), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Édgar Ramirez (Carlos), Dascha Polanco (Orange is the New Black), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) and Isabella Rossellini (Enemy) – lend their considerable talents to this mess, all to no avail. To be avoided.

Danish Girl

The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper, 2015)

Another biopic gone wrong, The Danish Girl is based on the life of Danish transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (1882–1931) – born Einar Wegener – and features a performance by Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) that is so mannered and filled with telegraphed emotions that it must surely be an insult to trans people everywhere. If I had to watch Redmayne twitch his cheek muscles one more time while raising a trembling hand to his face in an agony of actorly discomfort, I was going to scream. Given the resultant complete void at the center of the story, we focus far more attention on the actual Scandinavian in the film –  Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) – who plays Einar/Lili’s long-suffering wife, Gerda. When hunky Matthias Schoenaerts (Far from the Madding Crowd) shows up, it’s all we can do not to root for him to get it on with Gerda. Which is too bad, since this is an important story, and Elbe an important historical figure. Then again, it should come as little surprise, given that the director, Tom Hooper, maker of Les Miserables (and, to be fair, the eminently watchable The King’s Speech), demonstrated, with that musical melodrama, a tendency towards extremities of overwrought emotion here given far too free rein. Also to be avoided.

Daddy's Home

Daddy’s Home (Sean Anders, 2015)

Finally, there’s Daddy’s Home, directed by Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2) and starring Will Ferrell (Get Hard), Mark Wahlberg (Broken City) and Linda Cardellini (Bloodline). In it, Ferrell plays Cardellini’s second husband, adoptive father to her two kids, who must deal with the unexpected visit of husband #1 (Wahlberg), back from a mysterious overseas (possibly mercenary) job. If the prospect of seeing flabby Ferrell go mano a mano with well-muscled Wahlberg strikes you as funny, don’t be fooled. The jokes are stale and the filmmaking is pedestrian. I haven’t seen it, but a friend just recommend The Other Guys to me – also starring Ferrell and Wahlberg – given my love of its director’s latest film, The Big Short. My advice? Watch that, instead.

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