Documentary filmmaker Julie Shles, whose first fiction feature “Pick a Card” enjoyed marginal international success, returns seven years later with “Joy,” an off-kilter curio about a daughter’s attempt to rescue her dysfunctional family through televised intervention. Pic recalls Percy Adlon’s Marianne Sagebrecht-starring vehicles (“Sugarbaby,” “Baghdad Cafe”) in its affectionate attitude toward its overweight, 35-year-old heroine, Simcha. Actress Sigalit Fuchs infuses Simcha with an irresistibe wide-eyed vulnerability. With a vertically challenged mime as a love interest, the film fairly courts criticism for excessive whimsicality. Still, this likable oddity has an outside shot at limited arthouse release.
Simcha’s name means joy, as does that of her brother Gil (Tal Friedman) and father Yitzak (Yossi Pollak), yet no one in this family of schlemiels can show much reason for elation. Simcha works in the television department of a huge, neon-lit shopping complex, carrying on a perfunctory after-hours affair with her uncaring creep of a boss.
Gil has just lost his job and spends his days parked in the company’s underground garage so his wife Nora (Keren Mor) won’t find out he’s been fired.
Meanwhile, Yitzak’s downtown forays turn into a humiliating struggle with bladder control, while his wife (Rivka Michaeli), stuck at home, laments his infidelities.
While her family seems mired in misery, Simcha possess an almost childlike gift for finding happiness in simple things like riding a bike, splashing about in a swimming pool, listening to music or watching a diminutive mime (Alex Senderovich) battle an imaginary wind.
One day, Simcha daringly tries out for her favorite reality TV show, a glitzy New Age cross between “This Is Your Life” and “Dr. Phil” that engineers therapeutic “surprise parties” for unsuspecting friends or relatives. She proposes to round up her parents’ former friends and recreate a party to which nobody came.
Though the characters’ stories seem over-the-top on paper, they form a crazy-quilt of controlled if variegated tones.
Tech credits are first-rate, Itzik Portal’s photography of Tel Aviv locations astutely contextualizing Shles’ sometimes candy-colored fable, from the impersonal immensity of the shopping complex to the cozy shabbiness of Simcha’s apartment.