Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 3 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 1; Language 3; Sex /Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
This biographical film about the inventor of the Miracle Mop could easily be mistaken for a screwball comedy, the dysfunctional family being so quirkily funny at times. The actors playing the characters form an ensemble cast worthy of a Robert Altman film, though it is young Jennifer Lawrence who is at the center of everything. I wonder if she at first felt intimidated by her senior cast members, some of whom, such as Robert De Niro, are thespian legends. If so, she never shows it. Once again we see director David O. Russell guiding her to an award-worthy performance as Joy Mangano, who—most of the time—is like the calm center of the hurricane that her family resembles.
Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) imbues her with a hopeful and fighting spirit, and also provides the voice over narration for most of the film. Living on Long Island, Joy works as an airlines reservation manager when the film begins. Though divorced and raising, with the help of Mimi her young children, she allows her down on his luck husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) to live in the basement of her house, where he practices his lounge singing act. Her reclusive mother Terry (Virginia Madsen) spends most of her time in her bedroom criticizing Joy and watching an over the top soap opera. (We will see scenes of this overly acted series scattered throughout the film.) As if this were not enough, Joy’s cranky father Rudy (Robert De Niro) moves into the basement. He runs an auto shop with Joy’s half-sister Peggy (Elizabeth Rohm), who is jealous of her.
There are two other important people in Joy’s life. Jackie (Dascha Polanco) has been her friend since childhood, and as we will see provides crucial support when her friend needs it the most. Trudi (Isabella Rossellini), who will bring financial support, enters Joy’s life when Rudy hooks up with her through an on-line dating service. A rich widow, she has a shrewd head for business, so when Joy invents her self-wringing, detachable mop, it is Trudi, after carefully questioning her, who comes up with the money to bring Joy’s invention to market. However, getting the public to even notice, let alone buy it, proves an almost impossible task. When she and one of her daughters demonstrate the mop in a K-Mart parking lot they are arrested by the police. It is Tony who is key in the next step. He takes his ex-wife to the Pennsylvania headquarters of the cable shopping company QVC in the hope that an old friend working there will get them an interview with executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper). After a long, long wait Joy finally catches Walker’s ear, her enthusiastic persistence overcoming his initial reluctance to take a mop seriously made out of plastic.
There follows a series of ups and downs, the first down being that the supposedly hotshot salesman who first demonstrates the mop flubs up, making the contrivance seemingly unusable. The up involves Joy’s being able to convince Walker to allow her to go on camera with her mop. Then a down when she freezes on the set while Walker and crew anxiously try to prompt her to say something. The up comes in the nick of time when Jackie, watching her friend on her TV set, calls in, her warm, familiar voice triggering Joy to tell the audience that she is an ordinary mom and housewife who invented her mop when she was wringing her old mop she cut her hands on the broken shards of glass embedded in it. Joy and Trudi had invested everything, including the former’s house, in manufacturing the large number of mops required by QVC, so Jackie’s timely support is one more sign of what the writer of Proverbs verse meant in the above passage concerning friendship.
There is still another major down, indicating that the path to success is not as quick and easy as politicians and motivational speakers lead us to think. This is as entertaining a story about perseverance and fulfilling the American Dream, as well as a good example of the need for support from friends and family. The film is one of those “mostly true” stories, with the real Joy Mangano cooperating with director David O. Russell, but going along with the director and co-writer’s fictional additions that make this more than just an ordinary film biography. (For the Fact and Fiction of the film see Eliza Berman’s article in TIME Magazine at http://time.com/4161779/joy-movie-accuracy-fact-check/.) If, after seeing the prophetic film Concussion or the harrowing adventure and disaster films The Revenant, The 33, or In the Heart of the Sea, you want a feel-good movie that is more than cinematic fluff, this is the one to see. The ending is especially satisfying in that it subtly shows that success has not spoiled her or lessened her empathy for others. This is the story of a strong woman who lives up to her name! Indeed, I just now remember an important scene at the beginning of the film harking back to their childhood in which Joy is showing Jackie the cut-out paper tree, bird, house, and people she has made. When Joy says that the paper girl is the princess, Jackie replies that she doesn’t need one. Thus I especially urge those with middle school and older daughters to watch and discuss this with their children. This is one of far too few films that provide such a sense of empowerment to female viewers. No wonder why the real Joy Mangano is pleased with the film.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the Jan. 2016 issue of VP.