Jennifer Lawrence is surely one of the finest actors that have emerged in the past few years. From her amazing performance in Winter’s Bone to her latest Joy, I just enjoy watching her on screen. And most often I find that she is able to bring a lot of entertainment to the most convoluted (sometimes even repetitively boring) stories. While Joy has some good scenes, the basic story though not inventive, has an interestingly attempted ‘feminist’ take to it. But Lawrence is the film, really. Even in the presence of stalwarts like Robert De Niro, Isabella Rossellini and eye candy Bradley Cooper, Lawrence’s presence pervades the film.
Joy Mangano (Lawrence playing the title role and inspired from the real life story of Mangano who invited the Self Wringing Mop and became a millionaire) is a divorced mother of two, has a relatively monotonous job as a ticketing agent for an airline, has huge amounts of debt and a mortgage, her ex-husband (now friend) living in her basement, her mother a TV addict who sits on her bed watching daytime soaps all the time and the final nail in her coffin is when her father moves back into her home and begins sharing the basement with her ex-husband whom he hates. In all of this madness, Joy is serenity personified. The first fifteen odd minutes of the film bombards her (the audience) with a plethora of these endless family/life challenges, yet Joy doesn’t break down just yet and struts to work, hoping that everything will work itself out.
The premise of the film is interesting: a grandmother’s point of view narrative of her granddaughter’s life. The grandmother had always harbored dreams for her Joy as someone who will emerge from the rubble of life and become the matriarch that she was meant to be. But we meet Joy at perhaps the lowest in her life, through the eyes of her grandmother. The first and I feel a major narrative flaw of the film is how the narrator is portrayed. We know nothing about the grandmother, while through her voiceover we know it’s her talking about the granddaughter she loves, but beyond that there is no real character to her, which is unfortunate as most of what she says carries weight and pretty much is aimed at steering the story.
After the initial shock of Joy’s life, she sits and reminisces with a friend of how life got to where it has. A Valedictorian in high school, Joy invented what would have been a revolutionary dog collar (one that doesn’t suffocate the pet and is easily detachable), yet she was never able to get it patented and thus nothing came of it. This inventive streak in Joy had always been vibrant and while she digressed as life moved along, fell in love, had children and became trapped in the rumblings of life, she was never short of ideas.
Joy’s father Rudy (De Niro) meets a wealthy woman Trudy (Isabelle Rossellini) and after many years of being single and two failed marriages, they begin dating. The family is invited to Trudy’s dead husband’s boat for a picnic. The sea rumbles, a few wine glasses tumble and Joy finds herself on her knees wringing a mop as she cleans the mess that is her life. That’s when it all comes back to her. She comes home, borrows crayons and some drawing paper from her daughter and sits to put pen to paper and speaks out her newest idea. She draws and doesn’t stop till she has what will be the first Self-Wringing Mop. But this brilliant idea needs an investor for both patent protection and possible production. Viola!! Trudy to the rescue as Joy pretty much gives Rudy and ultimatum to convince Trudy to give her idea a chance.
The grit and determination of Joy is what makes the film. The supporting characters in her husband (Edgar Ramirez), a jealous half-sister (Elisabeth Rohm), her mother (Virginia Madsen) all of them seemed unnecessary to me as far as the story goes. The grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) could have been made to do so much, but she doesn’t. They all did fill in the ‘nice to haves’, but I wouldn’t have missed anyone if they weren’t in the film. This lack of character development makes the film suffer so much that it’s not able to recover.
While Trudy decides to support Joy, she has her father’s garage turned into the most efficient small-scale production facility. Joy turns entrepreneur overnight. With support from some local (mostly immigrant) women, Joy’s mop is being hand made and ready to hit the roads.
Most of the rest of the film is pretty predictable. Joy’s husband has a buddy who works for a big retailer and gets Joy a few minutes with the big-wig marketing guy at QVC Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper). QVC is aggressively expanding into American homes by selling things on TV. This is the ’70s and calling in to buy and have delivered the product of your dreams is what most middle-class Americans do.
Walker promises to give Joy’s mop its few minutes in the spotlight. She gambles her house, her family and every dime she has to produce 50,000 mops which at first attempt at sale fall flat on their faces, thanks to a rather clumsy job by the QVC salesperson. Joy comes to the rescue and it has to be her on TV selling the mop for it to mean anything.
While the rest of the story and how Joy overcomes great business adversities to best everyone and emerge victorious is endearing and also inspiring. It’s heartening to see that in the end Joy remembers where she came from and turns into a mentor businesswoman to the thousands of others who bring their ideas to her. For a feel good, rags to riches film Joy does well, but it did little to really dig deep and delve into what it means to be a aspiring woman entrepreneur, what it means to be a single mother with kids, with an underpaying job that you must keep to put food on the table? Joy sums it up pretty appropriately when she says that society does not exist to support or inspire you, it exists to crush your dreams and deny you opportunity. That is the raw emotion that I kept looking for, but only found sporadic bits of it.
Joy is playing in cinemas now