Film Reviews

‘Joy’: A Step-by-Step DIY Destiny

A quirky little look into what it takes to follow your dreams and succeed while maintaining your family close

Where do ideas come from? Hard to pinpoint a specific source. A flash of brilliance from the muse, maybe. You might assume only smart people get them. However, anyone can get a brilliant creative thought out of the blue, regardless of their IQ level. A better question might be: how do those ideas go from thoughts into something more tangible or commercial? Like a film or, why not, a new type of mop? Writer-director David O. Russell (American Hustle), along with his favorite muse Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2), tackles these questions and more in their modern fairy tale known as Joy.

Joy in a Nutshell

This comedy tells the true-life rise to fame of inventor Joy Margano (Lawrence). The resourceful single mother comes from a kooky yet oddly believable family clan. There’s divorced dad Rudy (Robert De Niro); TV-addicted mom Terry (Virginia Madsen); nightclub singing ex-husband Tony (Édgar Ramírez); ray-of-light grandma Mimi (Diane Ladd); as well as plucky kids Cristy (Gia and Aundrea Gadsby) and Tommy (Tomás and Zeke Elizondo). Moreover, they all live under the same roof with Haitian plumber Toussaint (Jimmy Jean-Louis) seemingly tagging along. Rounding out Joy’s inner circle is her best friend Jackie (Dascha Polanco), Rudy’s new girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), and Joy’s slightly resentful older half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm).

Joy Margano (Jennifer Lawrence) and daughter do technical drawings by crayon in Joy. (SOURCE: 20th Century Fox.)

Margano grew up with a knack for ingenuity and creativity fostered by her grandmother. She could’ve going to school for a degree in industrial engineering. Instead, she settled into a banal existence of going from job to job while taking care of her rundown home, loving tykes and quirky folks. But losing her job puts her behind a rock and a hard place reawakens her creative side. The result: the revolutionary self-wringing Miracle Mop. The movie presents Joy’s struggle to design, manufacture, market, sell and protect her creation. In other words, how Joy made her mop famous on QVC after she convinces Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), the home shopping channel’s CEO, to give her a shot.

Commonplace Craziness

By presenting how Joy’s inner sanctum of non-dreamers and how they think, the movie posits that Joy’s not really facing insurmountable world-altering odds. Her foe is herself. In addition, she faces the family she undoubtedly adores but has allowed to drive her crazy. It’s a common theme in Russell’s work. That is to say, showing the insanity behind the typical with a energetic but lighthearted approach. You can clearly see it in action on The Silver Linings Playbook and, to a degree, American Hustle. To give the story a fairy tale feel without resorting to fantasy, Russell intercuts Joy’s life with scenes from a fake soap opera starring, of course, daytime queen Susan Lucci.

Joy Margano (Jennifer Lawrence) and Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) go into business in Joy. (SOURCE: 20th Century Fox.)

The movie’s underlying message might be misinterpreted as middle-class Ayn Rand-ish, but I disagree. As brilliantly portrayed by Lawrence, Margano discovers an opportunity to make her dreams come true while supporting her family. Her eyes are clearly on the prize. Think less Atlas Shrugged and more The Pursuit of Happyness. Saying Lawrence’s portrayal here is superb hardly counts as a surprise. Lawrence, along with fellow American Hustle co-star Amy Adams, represent the closest our generation of actresses has gotten to Meryl Streep mass-appeal talent.

There’s a Lesson Here Somewhere

Lawrence aside, the movie Joy does deserve extra praise for being highly entertaining. Most importantly, it shows how far successful people truly have to go to get from rags to riches. The “picking up the gun” analogy used throughout doesn’t mean you need to hurt people to get ahead. You do need to roll up your sleeves, face the Wizard and prove he’s just a guy behind a curtain. More than film awards, what Joy deserves is to be shown in high schools during Career Day and anywhere you train for creativity-related careers such as architecture, advertising, design, writing and, yup, even filmmaking. Let Joy show all the little dreamers in the world how hard it is and how long takes to reach their goals.

Now showing only in theaters.


Movie title: Joy

Movie description: A quirky little look into what it takes to follow your dreams and succeed while maintaining your family close.

Date published: 2016-01-15

Director(s): David O. Russell

Actor(s): Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Édgar Ramírez, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Röhm, Bradley Cooper, Diane Ladd

Genre: Drama


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