Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper
Joy is the story of a woman who doesn’t really have much joy in her life. Joy (as played by Jennifer Lawrence) is a down-on-her-luck young mom-of-two who’s battling at the same time a mortgage on her house, a depressed mother who’s hooked on to TV soaps, constant fights between her ex-husband Tony and her father Rudy (both currently residing in her basement), a competitive elder half-sister, a nowhere job at an airlines’ reservation desk. Life has dealt Joy many a blow indeed, and she’s just trying to make it from one crisis to another.
But Joy wasn’t always like this bogged down by challenges. Once she was bright and inquisitive and creative. Once she believed that she had the power to shape her own destiny. We find this out because the narrator of the story Joy’s grandmother Mimi tells us so. Mimi is a source of steadfast support for Joy, so also is her best friend Jackie and at times, her ex-husband Tony. And when Joy rediscovers her inner inventor and comes up with an idea for a cool new product one that could change her life they get behind her all the way.
Of course, no cinematic journey to the top is without its hurdles and Joy’s ascent is particularly arduous. Just when it seems that she will escape her circumstances, she is brought repeatedly to her knees, by the people around her. But as they say, you can’t keep a good woman down, and Joy makes true her destiny.
What makes this hard luck tale more interesting than the usual? Well, the fact that it is based on the real-life story of Joy Mangano self-made millionaires and “queen of the Home Shopping Network”. Mangano created the “self wringing mop”, the first of many other inventions and her products soon became the hottest sellers on television shopping channels. In fact, her success was dual: Not only did she obtain several patents for her inventions (this also includes the “huggable hangers”), she also became a star on the shopping channel she retailed her products on, gaining a massive fan following (here she is, selling one of her “huggable hangers on
Her personal fortune is now estimated to be over $50 million, the value of her total sales is in billions. Jennifer Lawrence brings to life this rags-to-riches tale to the best of her ability. She is, as always, luminescent, gritty when she needs to be, and her bleak desperation to avoid the absolute ruin that stares her in the face, is compelling portrayed. As her eccentric family that pulls her down more often than they push her up, De Niro and the rest too are pitch perfect.
The problem, if any, is that Joy Mangano herself has not made much known about the time of her life between the time she got divorced and made her miracle mop a huge success.
Joy’s director David O. Russell (of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle fame) is said to have sat down with Mangano and researched her story extensively, still there seems to be something of a one-dimensional feel to her story. Many of the ways in which she is shown to suffer seem clichéd for instance, after a particularly harrowing episode where she stands to lose nearly everything she has built, including the patent to her beloved mop, Joy is shown to stand before the mirror and cut off her long blonde hair. That’s the cue for her to take on the bad guys. There have been far too many movies showing the exact same moment as the one where the heroine decides that she won’t be defeated by her circumstances/opponents. The cutting off of her hair seems always to denote a woman’s battle-readiness for some reason. Yet another overused trope is that of Joy inserting herself into the world of the soap operas her mother is hooked to, in her dreams, with the characters making her realise that the little girl she used to be bright and full of wonder has been lost.
The other problem is that while Joy is about well, Joy, it isn’t narrated by her. The narrative device of having the grandmother narrate the story (when as a character, she isn’t even present for several parts of that story) doesn’t serve any purpose. Bradley Cooper too appears in a somewhat pointless part he plays the executive of the TV channel where Joy begins her career selling her products. He passes on some disjointed advice to Joy about selling products, ensuring the focus is always on her hands when she’s on camera etc. It’s a little bit of a distraction as perhaps a less conspicuous actor might have served the role better.
Still, this is a story of hope, and it is a story worth telling. And it is a story worth seeing, There are times when you will seethe at the way her family treats Joy, at the way she is willing to make herself a martyr to their selfishness. Also, despite the subject matter, the film never seems dark or dreary, mainly due to the treatment and because Joy makes the switch from victim to victor fairly quickly. Jennifer Lawrence has already won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Joy and is in the reckoning for an Oscar too. While the jury’s still out on that one, we’ll present our verdict on this film: It’s certainly worth a watch. Will it be the most memorable film you watch from this year’s Oscar shortlist? The answer, sadly, is no.