There is a scene in the film, Joy, in which the lead character tells her family, “In America everyday people make of what they will of themselves. I’m going to do something.” This is the key theme of award-winning director and writer, David O. Russell’s latest offering, a rags-to-riches story that rides on audiences’ love for a feel-good film.
Joy is partially based on the true story of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), a single mom of three with a host of zany family members, all of whom (including her ex-husband) live in her over-mortgaged house. Flashbacks between past and present show how, as a precocious child, Joy loved to invent new things. She’s smart, a mini visionary, with a future that looks bright. Fast forward and Joy, despite being her high school valedictorian and getting into “a good college”, has let go of her dreams to take care of her family, who aren’t particularly grateful. Joy’s mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), is an overwrought woman who insists on staying in her room all day watching soap operas, while her divorced father, Rudy (Robert de Niro), himself emotionally unbalanced, moves into the basement with Joy’s ex-husband, Tony.
But, you can’t get a good woman down. While cleaning up spilled wine and broken glass, Joy comes up with an idea for a new mop, one that won’t see women cutting their hands or having to touch the disgusting and dirty fibres, while cleaning house. This product really is the frontrunner of what South Africans would know as Floorwiz. Joy convinces her father’s rich girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), to invest in making the prototypes, while Trudy, in turn, advises Joy to take out another mortgage to help fund the costs.
Even though the invention is a clever one, Joy struggles to convince the right people to buy into it. None of the big stores is interested in selling a more expensive product that will last a lifetime. There is a pitiful scene in which Joy and her young daughter stand in the parking lot of a supermarket doing demonstrations, trying to convince someone, anyone, to buy her product.
Finally, through a contact of her ex-husband, Joy gets a meeting with an executive at QVC, an American home-shopping network. Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) decides to give Joy a chance, and appoints one of the network presenters to showcase the product. “In America,” Neil tells Joy, “I believe the ordinary meets the extraordinary every single day.” But the presentation is a humiliating failure, as the moronic actor is unable to correctly use the mop on live television. Determined not to let this get her down, Joy convinces Neil to give her a second chance and let her demonstrate her own product on television.
Joy is the story kind of story audiences love: that of the underdog, the rags to riches, American Dream, “if you work hard enough you’ll succeed” kind. There is almost always satisfaction in this kind of inspirational, “never give up” narrative. And in this, David O. Russell does deliver.
But, the offbeat, unpredictable rhythm of strategically choreographed camera work, and spontaneous dialogue that worked so well in the multiple award-winning films, American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, just aren’t as entertaining and engaging in Joy. In fact, it was extremely annoying and distracting for the first half hour in which the family dynamic is laid out. This does let up a little as the plot progresses and the focus changes from Joy’s family and personal life, to the pursuit of her dream.
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper unite for the third time in a Russell film. And, they manage to maintain some of that onscreen chemistry. Robert de Niro is back for his second Russell film, but his character feels a bit flat. Perhaps it’s intentional; Rudy is a disagreeable person and he irritated me to no end.
Joy is a satisfying, though somewhat predictable story, that will entertain, but not thrill.
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert Nixon, Virginia Madsen, Bradley Cooper, Isabella Rossellini
Rating: 3 out of 5