David O. Russell’s latest whimsical freewheeling drama sends Jennifer Lawrence, as Joy Mangano, on a roller coaster journey depicting expectation vs. life with an indefatigable charisma.
Joy may not have been on everybody’s ‘to watch’ list leading up to the hectic, Christmas (read: Star Wars) period but while rebels raved to the destruction of Star Killer Base for the third time in a week, Joy quietly went about her business.
Perhaps quiet isn’t the word, for Joy is a charming fast-paced soap opera-cum-latent-coming-of-age-high-risk drama depicting the rise of the eponymous Joy Mangano to businesswoman stardom.
Growing up with an inherent creative, entrepreneurial spirit Joy’s childhood dreams are buoyed solely by her supportive grandmother, Mimi. While Joy’s parents bicker and torment the very fabric of Joy’s childhood, literally tearing and shredding it’s innocence into tiny scraps of paper, Joy’s life is thrust towards the unforgiving role of guardian and mediator.
Seeking a break from her stifling, haunting dreams of discontentment Joy is taken aback by a local Venezualan musician, Tony, who embodies everything Joy desires in her own life. Freedom and the ability to follow one’s dreams. But even that isn’t enough to quell her incessant desire for escape and they are soon divorced, with two children.
With an ex-husband living in the basement, two children to care for, a soap opera addicted mother, and an ageing grandmother Joy’s situtation couldn’t get much worse. Until her father moves in and is forced to share the basement with Tony.
As Joy’s Cinderella story becomes more and more hectic, playing both guardian and mediator, she is on the verge of resigning herself to the fact that this is her life. But when her father meets a wealthy widow named Trudy, played by Isabella Rossellini, she stumbles onto a revolutionary idea while wringing out a glass littered mop head; the idea for a self-wringing miracle mop.
The soap opera absurdity of her life begins to wane as the new idea instils a new lease of life, brimming with energy and merciless determination. Scribbling out a few preliminary designs to pitch to Trudy for investment Joy is exposed to her first hurdle, convincing people that this idea is as revolutionary as she believes.
Mimi and Tony are her closest allies, and despite the divorce Mimi even observes in a sweet narration that Joy and Tony are better friends because of it. Acting as a friend and counsel Tony backs Joy completely never once losing hope in her pursuit of happiness.
It’s through Tony that her invention attains the attention it deserves. In a chance meeting with QVC’s executive, Neil Walker, a genuine Bradley Cooper, Joy’s miracle mop is cast into the limelight but flounders in the hands of an underprepared, uninspired telesales celebrity. Enraged with Neil’s handling of her product Joy storms into the Quality, Value, Convenience office and confronts him with a proposition, to sell the product herself.
The following scene is the sort of magic that is subtly distilled throughout the film’s entirety but erupts into one catalysing moment that turns this overnight success story into a beautiful fairy tale. With this subtle fairy tale evolving before our eyes we’re treated by the overt juxtaposition of Linus Sandgren’s cinematography that opts for black and white imagery to symbolise Joy’s state of mind. Cast against snowy backgrounds, mopping clinically clean white tiles, allowing her blond her to flow over the shoulders of her white blouse Joy is the epitome of hope symbolised.
Compare this to the darker, troubling obstacles Joy has faced in her life and you’ll notice a sharp distinction. Lubezki’s sprawling tracking shots may be in a different league but Sandgren’s minimalist approach is no less impressive and is fully deserving of any credit bestowed upon Russell’s underappreciated drama.
Joy is full of fantastic ideas and this semi-fictionalised account draws on some interesting themes that best highlight the absuridity of life; it’s failures, conflicts, responsibilities, and relationships, all of which are channelled through an inspired soap opera plot device. At once refreshing and intriguing storytelling this fairy tale just needed a tighter script.
In contrast Russell’s Silver Lining’s Playbook managed the intensities of realist drama perfectly with tidy scripting and fantastic direction and the chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence was palpable. But Joy fails to rekindle that spirit and as a result the experimental storytelling fails to create the humbling personality I was hoping for.
Having said that this depiction of Joy Mangano is anything but bereft of inspiration (the narrative voiceover would usually annoy me but Diane Ladd’s voice as Mimi is that of the dependable, gracious fairy godmother; adding weight to the fairy tale). While Joy is still in UK cinemas I highly recommend you give it a shot if only for Jennifer Lawrence’s outstanding performance. It’s more than just a story about a mop.
It’s a Brilliant generational picture portraying the multifaceted absurdity of family ties and the multifaceted frustrations of business, conflict, and responsibility. The Oscars may be going through a diversity crisis at the moment but Jennifer Lawrence is thoroughly deserving of her Best Actress nomination that no one can take away from her.