David O. Russell’s new film Joy is a biopic showing us the journey Joy Mangano took from broke (and in debt) single mother to multi millionaire queen of QVC and HSN. Jennifer Lawrence plays the titular role making this the third time she and Russell have collaborated. Lawrence starred in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook for which she took home the Best Actress Oscar, and also in Russell’s followup American Hustle for which Lawrence was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and you can bet the farm we will be hearing Lawrence’s name listed as a Best Actress nominee for her wonderful turn in Joy.
Some movie fans do not like David O. Russell as a director. These people will tell you that he is all style and no substance. That is certainly a valid argument, but one with which I disagree. I happen to like his style as it pertains to his storytelling and I think it worked best in Silver Linings… and American Hustle. Say what you want about Russell’s style, but you certainly must call it unique! At the beginning of Joy, as the studio logo is displayed to some light sounding bells, on to the opening (out of focus) camera shot, you can tell right away you’re in a David O. Russell Production! And I am here to tell you it is the right style for this wonderful biopic about an extraordinary woman.
To tell Mangano’s story as a straight drama would be almost too depressing to watch. She has a mother Terry (Virginia Madsen) living in her house who is so afraid of men and the outside world that she confines herself to her bed watching her soap operas in glorious agoraphobic fashion! Joy’s ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramierez) lives in the basement practicing his singing in to a cheap P.A. system while their two kids are being watched upstairs by Joy’s grandma (Diane Ladd) who also narrates the story with obsequious praise of Joy, always reassuring her that one day she will do great great things. Joy’s father, Rudy (Robert DeNiro – another multiple Russell collaborator), who was once married to Terry, owns a body shop that his daughter Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm) helps him run. Peggy is always there to let Joy know she has done something wrong and how she would have done it better! OH!! And when we pick up the story, Rudy moves in to the house as well after being kicked out of the house of his longtime girlfriend, and since there is no room left in the house, Joy is forced to put him in the basement with her ex Tony, who does not get along with Rudy! It should also be noted that Joy is broke bordering on in debt, and soon to actually be in debt, but as played by Lawrence, she remains so cute cuddly and calm….
Russell does some fun things like showing us the fake soap opera that Terry is always watching and actually uses some iconic soap opera stars like Susan Lucci to play the fake characters. Russell intercuts the soap sequences with the plot scenes of the real movie. He does this to show how Joy’s life is just like a ridiculous soap opera and how living a life like this can lead to you inventing the world’s first self ringing mop! Which is what she did….
Rudy meets a lady named Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) through a dating service for widows and widowers (even though he isn’t a widower himself). They begin a romantic relationship. It is Trudy who ends up lending Joy the money to start her business to build and sell these mops. Part of the fun of this film is to watch all of the great struggles Joy endures to become a success, so I will not spoil it for you.
One of the things I like most about the film is the way Russell’s screenplay strips down a lot of the business minutiae and leaves in a bunch of phrases and bureaucratic nonsense (from the real world) that keeps many big and good ideas from coming to fruition in this country. Over and over and OVER again we hear Trudy say to Joy in some form, “That’s the cost of doing business…” when something goes wrong for her. This becomes a turn of phrase for Joy’s bad luck and misfortune. The screenplay does a nice job as well to take us on the roller coaster ride that is Joy’s journey to selling her Miracle Mop to the country – how apropos a name!!
My fovorite parts of the film are with Bradleey Cooper as QVC sales executive Neil Walker. We get so use to the craziness that is Joy’s life and the zaniness of her family and their little manic tics, that when we see Walker as Cooper plays him – calm, cool, steady and collected – we can feel how Joy herself is calmed by him as well. There is a moment in the film (my absolute favorite) at the QVC headquarters where Joan Rivers (played by her daughter Melissa Rivers) is selling her jewelry with a pretty female QVC host. Walker is taking Joy on a tour of the studio when they begin watching the live broadcast with Joan. The way Russell makes it look as if Cooper is conducting a large orchestra during this scene as he is showing Joy the connection between the movement of the host’s hands to the numbers of calls coming in is nothing short of enthralling!
I want to once again talk about how stripped down a lot of the screenplay is regarding the business side of things. Russell does a great thing here to oversimplify the business terms and strategies; he instead uses these simple terms to give an overarching theme of how ridiculous people sound when they say these things. I believe Russell is trying to show a story of a brave woman with little to no business acumen who made it to the top because she had guts and a good idea! By stripping down the language, Russell is rendering these traditional methods insensitive and superfluous. This point is further emboldened when we learn Joy’s best friend Jackie and her ex Tony are her business consultants (even well after she bcomes rich).
Russell is also showing how it was this type of behavior from others that made Joy Mangano in to not only a successful business woman, but an empathetic one who is willing to take chances on other people’s ideas and also take care of her family long after they maybe didn’t deserve it.
Joy Mangano’s story is truly an American one! A lot of people these days are losing sight what that really means. It is an interesting and challenging choice for Russell to write and direct a film about this extraordinary woman. I do not know what made him decide to do it, but in many of his films, non-fiction or otherwise, he likes the story of the underdog – the one everyone is counting out. We all feel like that person at times in our lives, and Russell is showing us stories that say anything is possible – especially if we reach for our inner Joy….
This is one of the best films of the year…