Director: David O Russell
Writer: David O Russell, Annie Mumolo
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert Di Niro
Joy is a movie about a mop.
Well, to be more specific, its a movie about Joy Mangano – the long suffering single mother of three who invents the Miracle Mop.
Still, I was surprised at how ‘mop-centric’ this film was. I didn’t find a great deal to read into the film’s subtext to suggest that its about a bigger topic. This isn’t a metaphor for social equality or a commentary on American consumerism. It’s a story about how someone designed a mop, secured a complicated ‘shared’ patent, navigated the hurdles of logistics and struggled to find a platform in which to sell it. It is the beginning, middle and end in a story about a mop.
Presumably director and co-screen writer David O Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) was attracted to the project because of the dysfunctional family unit that Joy lived with when she invented the mop. They are what give the film its colour and detail. It’s also an opportunity to recast his apparent favourite trio of actors – Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert Di Niro – to work on the same project once more.
Both the real life and movie version of Joy lived in an impossibly crowded household. Joy supports her bed ridden, soap opera addicted mother Terri. Her ex-husband Tony aspired to be the new Tom Jones but ended up as a failed lounge singer who lives in Joy’s basement. They have two kids together. At the beginning of the film, Joy’s father Rudy is ‘returned’ to the home by his girlfriend, as though he is a defective department store product. Oh, and the film’s narrator and Joy’s grandmother Mimi also lives there.
If that sounds like way too many people living under one roof, I read that the movie actually short-changes Joy on this count. She had three kids in real life, not two as we see in the film.
Joy is the glue that holds the family together. She is apparently the only one with any steady source of income and she does most of the housework too. She has near saintly levels of patience when dealing with the adults in her life. Rudy is hot tempered and volatile. Terri is lazy and messy. Tony seems perpetually unemployed. What ends up happening is that her incredible generosity causes the family to be indebted to her emotionally so that when the inspiration strikes to design and sell the Miracle Mop, they can’t help but be obliged to help her.
That moment of inspiration arrives during a sailing trip with Rudy’s new girlfriend Trudy, who is a widower to a wealthy business mogul. When a bottle of wine is broken on the boat Joy cuts her hands rinsing the mop head. It sparks an idea and Joy designs what would eventually become the Miracle Mop. Once she builds a prototype, she convinces her father to set up a meeting with Trudy as a potential financial backer.
One thing leads to another and – if the film gets its hooks into you – you become invested in the story of the Miracle Mop.
Some of the greatest films ever made over the years have gotten audiences attached to unusual things. Anyone who has seen The Bridge On The River Kwai would remember feeling very strongly about the fate of a bridge. Spellbound makes you hang on every letter in a spelling bee. This is what you get with Joy. The film’s highlight is a sound stage on a home shopping channel where Joy spruiks the mop to a television audience and we hold our collective breaths hoping for the sales to start ringing in.
But wait, there’s more! Making a mop, or at least a successful one, turns out to be an extraordinarily challenging ordeal. Joy is hampered by bad financial advice from Trudy’s patent attorney. The mysterious parts manufacturer in California keeps jacking up the prices and charging her for their own mistakes. A rival half-sister Peggy also threatens to undermine Joy at every turn. Even when it turns out that there is a market for Joy’s idea, it is far from smooth sailing.
Joy is a weird movie and I suspect most people’s opinions of it could well be shaped before they even set foot in a cinema. If you’re feeling rather cynical about a fourth consecutive year in which David O Russell has popped up during awards season with virtually the same cast, I don’t think this movie will win you over. On the other hand, if you like Jennifer Lawrence and fancy the idea of seeing her in a star vehicle where she gets to do her thing, then I think you’ll probably like this film warts and all. I did.
Perhaps the greatest irony with Joy is that for a film about a cleaning product, its a hot mess. There’s a narration at the start of the film that gets abruptly dropped midway through, only to pop up again at the very end. There’s some dreamlike sequences riffing on the day time soap opera that Terri watches that don’t really add anything to the film. Overall, Joy is a bizarre mish mash of genres and stylistic ideas. In the same way that Joy Mangano holds the family together, it is the ever trusty Jennifer Lawrence and her earnest, likeable screen presence that make this a watchable and even enjoyable movie for me.
Three stars! It’s the best mop movie ever made.