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, yet 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), a resourceful single mother among a kooky yet oddly believable family clan which includes 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), all living 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. Instead of going to school for a degree in industrial engineering, however, as an adult 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 when losing her job puts her behind a rock and a hard place, she reawakens her creative side and invents the revolutionary self-wringing Miracle Mop. The movie presents Joy’s struggle to design, manufacture, market, sell and protect her creation, which became famous on QVC after Joy 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, besides being herself, is the family she undoubtedly adores but has allowed to drive her crazy. It’s a common theme in Russell’s work: showing the insanity behind the typical with a energetic but lighthearted approach. You can clearly see in 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 is less Atlas Shrugged and more The Pursuit of Happyness, in that she discovers an opportunity to make her dreams come true while supporting her family, so her eyes are on the prize. Saying Lawrence’s portrayal here is superb hardly counts as a surprise. She along with fellow American Hustle co-star Amy Adams are maybe the closest our generation of actresses will ever get to Meryl Streep mass-appeal talent.

There’s a Lesson Here Somewhere

Lawrence aside, Joy does deserve extra praise because, while being highly entertaining, 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, but 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.
Details

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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