Joy (David O. Russell, 2015)
If anyone can sell a mop, it’s Jennifer Lawrence. At face value, inventing and selling household appliances may not be the most thrilling of subject matter, however Joy is an intriguing look into the risk-taking game of business. A rags to riches story based loosely on the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the ‘Miracle Mop’, Joy is ultimately an odd film. David O. Russell imbues this film with a frenetic vibe – not dissimilar to that in his previous films Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle – that takes a little getting used to. But if you’re willing to go with the flow, it’s a relatively fun – if a little too long – ride.
The supporting characters – Joy’s father (Robert De Niro) hermit mother (Virginia Madsen), ex-husband (Édgar Ramirez), half-sister (Elisabeth Röhm), grandmother (Diane Ladd), best friend (Dascha Polanco), financier and father’s girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini) and the executive that helps her (Bradley Cooper) – are an odd bunch, almost so odd to the point where you figure they could only be based on real people. And yet, most of these characters have been fictionalised by Russell, who rewrote Annie Mumolo’s script which was initially written as a biopic. In Russell’s version, Joy is now an amalgamation of various women, and her last name is never referred to. The whole film seems too ridiculous to be made-up, the characters too peculiar. But indeed they are mostly Russell’s creations, and that is a disappointing discovery.
Despite the caricaturish nature of their roles, the cast is strong, from the big names to the smaller ones. If it weren’t for Lawrence, Joy would run the risk of falling into the abyss, but her star power lifts this film out of the depths that swallowed up Russell’s previous attempt, Accidental Love. (Haven’t heard of it? That sounds about right.) Isabella Crovetti-Cramp is especially wonderful as young Joy, to the point where it was almost disappointing to see J-Law show up when she did.
Joy may be viewed by some as a hot mess – it is unusual for a mainstream film. Home shopping is a bizarre enough entity as it is, and making it into a magical fantasy land as Russell does here has a dizzying effect. Add Melissa Rivers playing her mother, Joan, and it’s like you’ve stepped into some sort of nightmare/bad trip. Russell does well, however, in juxtaposing Joy’s early struggles with the bright lights of television and success, and his film offers much insight into the challenges of starting up a business and the inherent risks. I’ve never seen the appeal in going into business, and my mind remains unchanged after watching this film. Still, kudos to Joy Mangano and all the others who stick to their guns and eventually find success. It’s a rarity to see a woman’s business journey portrayed on screen, it’s just a shame it was about a mop.