If Jennifer Lawrence weren’t already a movie star, “Joy” is the film that would make her one. Since Lawrence is already one of the most recognizable actresses in the world, has anchored a juggernaut franchise and been nominated for four Academy Awards with one Oscar already on the mantel, “Joy” reminds us she is more than just a movie star and critics’ darling. She is still in the early years of what will undoubtedly be a long career with many great performances along the way. She received her fourth Oscar nomination for this and it is arguably her best performance and most challenging role.
Writer-director David O. Russell takes the story of Joy Mangano’s invention of the Miracle Mop and her battle to successfully market it and tells it with the tension of a suspense film and the corporate ruthlessness and bootstrapping of “There Will be Blood”. From the early scenes, it’s clear Joy has always been an inventor, but hasn’t had the breaks in life to turn her ideas into a career. As she’s heading out to go to her job at the airline desk, she finds a prototype of one of her early inventions and reminds her mom she could have had this patented if her mother had been more helpful.
When Joy gets an idea for a mop which can be wrung out without the user having to touch the cloth, she gets to work on drawing up a design and lobbying for investment capital. The major investor also happens to be her father’s affluent girlfriend Trudy (a steely Isabella Rossellini) and the extent to which family plays a role in Joy’s failures and successes makes for some of the movie’s most effective scenes. The American Dream is a much-romanticized concept, but the realities are often only referenced, if thought of at all. This is true not only in the way society views the concept, but also in many movies’ treatment of it. Russell’s script avoids a cursory look at the development stages of the product and the ensuing struggles that come with building a business and instead brings the audience right to the negotiating table with the characters. When Joy finally gets her investment money, it’s after a series of meetings with Trudy and her family in which she’s has to go to painstaking lengths to convince them of the merit of this idea. The audience also sees the research and development going into the endeavor, including a worldwide patent search to ensure the rights to the product design aren’t already held, the manufacturing of pieces needed to assemble the mop, and the difficulty in finding a retailer or marketer willing to promote and sell the invention. Like few movies before it, “Joy” chronicles a business in a way so precise and detailed, it could be a documentary.
Success is easiest with the right support, yet neither Joy’s financial support nor her emotional support was optimal. Anyone watching who’s ever had a dream could either identify or empathize with Joy based on the scenes with her family in regards to her ambition. Viewers who had supportive family members may be more appreciative of this and anyone whose family was not supportive, or even disparaging, will feel for Joy as she works even harder against this current. Robert De Niro plays her father as someone who loves her, but doesn’t champion her. it takes some time to convince him to approach Trudy with the suggestion she invest and when the deck is stacked against Joy, he’s more likely to tell her to accept her supposed limitations than to persevere.
As the thrills and disappointments of this venture occur, Lawrence portrays Joy’s experience with sincerity and conviction. She’s doing the finest acting of her career and yet she doesn’t appear to be acting.
This is the story of someone from an ordinary background doing something extraordinary. The scenes with her family emphasize this and make it a much more human drama than it might have been. She could be anyone and this makes her immediately relateable. When she hurts, the audience hurts. Yet when she succeeds, the audience feels like they’re right there with her and the rush is exhilarating.
This is a tremendously uplifting and inspirational movie and one so well crafted it is simply a pleasure to watch.