Joy – Film Review

Joy poster

If you’re a regular viewer of cable’s Home Shopping Network (HSN), there’s a chance you either know of or have heard of Joy Mangano.  She’s the president of Ingenious Designs, LLC and the inventor of, among other things, the self-wringing Miracle Mop.  She’s also the subject of the new comedy/drama Joy from director David O. Russell.  It’s not exactly a biopic in the traditional sense – nothing from director Russell ever seems typical – but it does tell the story of Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) and how she overcame seemingly insurmountable odds, especially from within her own family, to get where she is today.

Having invented a neat little contraption for her dog – an expandable dog-collar – only to see it patented by someone else, Joy decides that her new invention of a mop is going to be hers and will remain hers.  But that comes later.  First, we’re treated to a manic introductory fifty-five minutes illustrating the chaos that is Joy’s life at home, and it’s overwhelming.

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As narrated by Joy’s grandma, Mimi (Diane Ladd), we see just how much of a chaotic mess Joy’s family life can be.  Mom (Virginia Madsen) stays hidden away in her bedroom watching endless hours of TV soaps while continually clogging the water pipes with clumps of hair from her hair brushes.  Belligerent, divorced dad (Robert De Niro) moves back in to the house and is forced to share the basement with Joy’s ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez).  The dividing line between the two continually feuding men is marked by a roll of toilet paper.  And while struggling to raise her own family as a single mom, Joy is doing whatever she can to pay the mortgage and support everyone.  It’s a giddy, eccentric mess; a whirly-gig of exhausting images and sounds that never quits.

With fast-paced glimpses into Joy’s past, we’re treated to her wedding day when a disapproving dad tells Joy minutes before she’s about to walk up the aisle that it’s not too late to turn back.  “Are you seriously talking about this now?” Joy exclaims.  And the wedding speech is worse.  “I give these kids fifty-fifty odds,” he declares.

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The marriage doesn’t last, but the now ex-husband remains in the house, singing in the basement, rehearsing for a music career he doesn’t really have while Joy struggles to hold things together as an airline reservation manager.  Only grandma Mimi has encouraging words.  “You are going to grow up and be a fine, strong woman,” she tells her granddaughter.

This frenzied sense of storytelling may effectively thrust us right in the middle of Joy’s borderline anarchic lifestyle not of her choosing – she’s drowning under a torrent of family issues and continual criticisms – but there’s a point where you want to scream, enough!  Fortunately, that’s exactly how Joy feels.  After waking from a deep sleep, she lays down a few laws.  Dad has to move out of the house.  So, too, does the husband.  Plus, she wants to develop and promote a new idea; a mop made from a continuous loop of cotton that you can wring without ever touching the head – the Miracle Mop.  But unlike that expandable dog collar of earlier days, this time she wants to do it right.

It’s around the fifty-five minute mark when Bradley Cooper as an executive at cable’s QVC channel comes to play, and it’s here where the film hooks you and reels you in.  “Can you make fifty thousand of these mops before next Thursday?” he asks.

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You’d be forgiven for thinking that Joy might be a Christmas themed movie.  The poster suggests it, certainly the title does, plus it opens nationwide on Christmas Day.  And even though chunks of the film’s setting appears to have a backdrop of twinkly Christmas lights while snow is ever present during several exterior scenes, Joy has nothing to do with the season.   With a signature David O. Russell energy of fast-paced cuts and a camera that never quits moving as if constantly looking for something, Joy’s theme is simple – never give up.  If you have a dream, and it’s one that you believe in, despite everything against you, including family, friends, shady business partners, complicated deals and heavy, burdensome debt, stick with it.  You never know, if you quit, the very next day could have been the one where things suddenly fell into place.  It did for Joy, but it didn’t come easy.  And that’s hardly a plot-spoiler.  Joy herself is regularly on HSN, pitching new ideas and products.

Director O. Russell has assembled his repertory of outstanding performers once again.  This is the second collaboration for Lawrence, Cooper and De Niro working together with the director; the third for Lawrence with O. Russell, and the fourth with co-star Cooper.  It’s quite a team, and here, each player, including newbies to the company, Diane Ladd, Virgina Madsen, and Isabella Rossellini, are all outstanding with Lawrence at its center, and she is superb.

Her range of emotions runs the gamut.  All things, from disappointments, weariness, happiness, annoyance, and confrontational anger to pure joy are never anything short of convincing.  What began as a stunning portrayal of youthful determination in Winter’s Bone has yet to stop.  For someone so young to be able to ground a lead so effectively as she does here, Jennifer Lawrence is truly astonishing.

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The first half of this two hour film can feel overpowering.  Its overexcited and hyper style is possibly twenty minutes too much, and it’s this extended introduction to a character’s life that stops Joy from being truly great.  But the second half is a thoroughly gripping watch as Joy navigates her way through an entrepreneurial world populated by business sharks and shady partners who want nothing more than to take her for every penny she has.

I don’t know the real Joy Mangano and I’ve never seen her on either QVC or HSN, and I’ve never used the Miracle Mop or – as far as I know – any of her other products, but if Jennifer Lawrence’s depiction of the inventor is even remotely close, then I like her.  Before going on TV for the first time to pitch, she takes off the glamour wardrobe the studio has given and changes back into her day clothes.  “I wear a blouse and I wear pants.  That’s me,” she states, and no one is going to change her mind.  How could you not love a character like that?

MPAA Rating:  PG-13    Length: 120 Minutes   Overall Rating:  8 (out of 10)

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