Movie Review: Joy
Don’t ever think that the world owes you anything, because it doesn’t. The world doesn’t owe you a thing.
I’m sure before you go to see Joy, you’ll think you’ve seen all the rags-to-riches stories you’ve had to. However you’re in for a surprise.
The film is first set in the 1960’s when Joy Mangano is a child. She’s very creative and very inventive. Fast forward to 1989. Joy Mangano is the breadwinner to a household of four generations of family: her grandmother, her divorced mother and father, her overachieving half-sister, her ex-husband and her two children. She works as a ticket agent at a major airline. Not exactly an admirable job for someone that was valedictorian when she graduated.
“How did it go wrong?” Joy ponders. She was an inventive girl but that all changed when her mother and father divorced. It was like her creativity went with her. She married a wedding singer with high hopes but his dreams fell apart and so did their marriage, albeit left amicable enough for him to still live in Joy’s house. Hey, he’s broke! Actually all the family’s lives appear unchanging as her father is dating the wrong women and her mother escapes the pain of divorce by locking herself in her bedroom and watching soaps. The one thing that stayed solid and has kept on going right over they years was Joy’s friendship to Jackie, her best friend since grade school.
One day, her father dates a new woman: an Italian woman named Trudy. She comes from a wealthy background and takes the whole family on the family yacht. A wine bottle breaks and Joy is left to mop it. She gets her hands cut trying to remove the broken glass from the mop. While recovering from her cuts, that’s when her inventiveness comes back. She has an idea for a self-cleaning mop and she’s willing to design it with something as simple as paper and her daughter’s crayons. Her mother is discouraging of her to chase her dreams but her grandmother is more supportive.
However she knows the difficulties of making something and merchandising it. She knows there’s someone who has a patent for something similar and has to agree to pay a certain percentage. She knows she will need financial support. Trudy is willing to offer but she’s very stern with whom she’s willing to support. She knows she will need a place to get the mop made. Her father offers her space in his workshop and women hired to make the mop. She even finds a factory willing to make the parts.
Then comes the advertising. She’s unable to get a deal and is subject to advertising her mop in K-Mart parking lots which is illegal. However she catches the attention of Neil Walker, CEO of the shopping channel QVC. He is impressed with the product and is willing to get it advertised on the channel. However everything goes wrong when first advertised as the salesman, who is considered the top salesman of the channel, does everything wrong and there’s no sale. Joy however doesn’t quit and negotiates with Walker for her to sell the product herself on the channel. When she does the commercial, she is very nervous. However a helpful phone call from Jackie while live on the air is just the boost she needs and it works. Her mop is a hit and it succeeds in getting her mops sold and paying her off.
However it doesn’t end there. Her success happens as her grandmother, the person who believed in Joy all along, dies. Then there’s news about excessive production fees paid. Joy goes to the factory and finds out a lot of bad truths about what has been happening and what’s being planned. Feeling helpless, Joy is about to file for bankruptcy until she finds out a certain truth and settles the score.
The movie isn’t just simply about a rags-to-riches story about a woman who was able to make it as a tycoon. It’s also a reminder that even in tight economic times, the American Dream is still achievable. Even in cases where there are obstacles thrown in your face like an advertiser who doesn’t do their job right or even lawsuits left, right and centre, it can still be done. We shouldn’t forget that Joy Mangano was making this all happen during the recession of the 90’s. I remember that recession well as I remember young adults like myself at the time received a lot of neglect from the job markets. Joy was not only able to create a ‘better mousetrap’ but be able to make it sell. Sure she faced a lot of common business challenges and hard blow of the business world and yes, she may have thought of giving up but she prevailed in the end. Now she’s the one in control. The film shows that this is still very much possible today.
One thing I will have to say is that doing such a film of a person achieving the American Dream has been done countless times. For one to do such a story differently, they would have to make the right choices. David O. Russell tries to make some unique choices such as having the story told by the grandmother’s point of view, even in time periods when the grandmother is deceased. Even the ending where the story progresses to the present but flashes back to just after Joy won her legal dispute is another unique choice in storytelling. However it makes one question whether those were the right choices. I can understand the attempt to tell a story differently but did they work? I don’t think they were the best choices.
David O. Russell sure has made a name for himself in the last five years with films like The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This is a new challenge for him to direct and co-write with Annie Mumolo a story about a female inventor and media personality. Not something I would normally associate with Russell. I will admit this is not his best work. There are times I even wondered if David O. Russell is the right director for such a movie. Nevertheless it’s still very professional despite some of the glitchy storytelling choices. I do give him and Mumolo kudos for telling this story of a woman who starts in a situation familiar with most Americans and turning it into a relatable success story. That is one of its best points. Even the human element of Joy Mangano is another excellent part of the film. The film is not just about a woman wanting to make a success of herself for her own purposes but also being someone for her own daughter to look up to. Joy goes from someone mocked by her half-sister in front of her own kids to being someone for her kids to look up to. That element is another plus.
No doubt Jennifer Lawrence owned the film. Of course the Hunger Games movies have made her a household name already at 25 but it’s Russell who knows how to bring out the best in Lawrence’s acting. In her third movie directed by Russell, she again masters a character many years older than her and comes out shining and in excellent style. Robert de Niro was also good as the trying father. However the biggest scene stealer of the supporting players had to be Isabella Rossellini as the new mother-in-law who means business. Actually all the actors in the film from those that played family members to Bradley Cooper as Neil Walker did a good job with their characters and made them entertaining to watch.
Joy is a good story about a woman who would not give up until she succeeds even after everything that could go against her was thrown at her. However it’s also a reminder that the American Dream is still possible even in the toughest of times. Not exactly the best film from David O. Russell but definitely worth seeing.