Joy (2015)

  • Time: 124 min
  • Genre: Biography | Comedy | Drama
  • Director: David O. Russell
  • Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Donna Mills


Joy is the wild true story of Joy Mangano and her Italian-American family across four generations centered on the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty by inventing the Miracle Mop and becomes a matriarch in her own right. Betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love, pave the road in this intense emotional and human comedy about becoming a true boss of family and enterprise facing a world of unforgiving commerce. Allies become adversaries and adversaries become allies, both inside and outside the family, as Joy’s inner life and fierce imagination carry her through the storm she faces. Jennifer Lawrence stars, with Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd, and Virginia Madsen. Like David O. Russell’s previous films, Joy defies genre to tell a story of family, loyalty, and love.


  • People tend to not listen to the first half dozen times you tell them something, but by the time you tell them for the tenth, eleventh time they start to sink in the information. Bradley Cooper’s Neil Lawrence makes this point halfway through Joy and it is a great point to make especially when you’re in the business of sales. One could wonder if Cooper is trying to drive in the point that he enjoys working with Jennifer Lawrence as this is their fourth consecutive year working together. Sales is not like art though and a point does not need to be repeated constantly for a viewer to get it and Joy is one constant repeat of the same point over and over again.

    JOY is the wild story of a family across four generations centered on the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right. Betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love, pave the road in this intense emotional and human comedy about becoming a true boss of family and enterprise facing a world of unforgiving commerce. Allies become adversaries and adversaries become allies, both inside and outside the family, as Joy’s inner life and fierce imagination carry her through the storm she faces. Jennifer Lawrence stars, with Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd, and Virginia Madsen. Like David O. Russell’s previous films, Joy defies genre to tell a story of family, loyalty, and love. ‘

    The point that is driven over and over again is the obstacle standing in Joy’s path towards success: her family. Joy’s family exists only to tell Joy that she can not succeed in selling her mop and should give up and quit for the sake of her and their financial well-being. It happens so often throughout the film that you could correctly predict when Joy is going to be told to quit once more.

    It isn’t like these (not so supportive) supporting characters are well drawn out as director David O. Russell never develops their arcs. Is Joy’s mother mentally ill or just overly pampered? Is Joy’s father happy with his new girlfriend or is she still around just because she is Joy’s business partner? What happened to Joy’s ex-husband after he finally moved out? None of these things are answered despite all these characters playing a pivotal role in Joy’s life.

    Not only is dialogue repeated but what Joy’s journey throughout the film is as well. We find Joy caught in the constant loop of attempting to stop the latest door of opportunity from closing while being told by everyone she meets on the way not to stop it. When Joy isn’t caught around these negative nancies she is stuck having the same nightmare of being stuck in her mother’s favorite soap opera which forces her to live a life of routine and oppression. We already have the same point being made in real life that including a repeated dream sequences which enforces the same point seems tedious.

    Joy is at its best when Russell focuses on Joy’s work at the QVC as we get to see the chemistry that seems to never fail between Lawrence and Cooper. But it isn’t only their chemistry but Russell’s approach in explaining the business behind the QVC. Unfortunately, this part only makes up for 30 minutes of the film.

    It is is unfortunate that the weak script takes away from what Lawrence is able to bring to the role. It is is unfortunate that the weak script takes away from what Lawrence is able to bring to the role. It is is unfortunate that the weak script takes away from what Lawrence is able to bring to the role.

    Yeah, not everything needs to be repeated for the point to get across.

  • When Joy stands in the street in the snowfall at the end of the film the snow is obviously false — large hunks of blown bits of foam. But that’s the film: a real life soap opera about the mix of myth and reality that makes up the American Dream. That’s why the film opens on a soap opera scene as it occurs on the set, which we later see narrowed down and reframed for the TV screen. The film weaves together fiction and life, truth and lies, connections and betrayals, all tightly wound — like a self-wringing mop.
    David Russell uses the real-life story of Joy Mangano to demonstrate the mix of ambition and failure, possibility and fiction, that makes up the myth that America is the land of opportunity where anyone can realize their dream.
    For the bulk of the movie the title and the heroine’s name seem a bitterly ironic taunt. Joy knows no joy. The brightest kid at school, class valedictorian, a dreamy and creative fantasist and inventor, she leaves her brilliant future behind her when she abandons college to look after her just divorced mother.
    Mother Terry spends her life on her bed watching the soaps, leaving Joy to tend to her and Joy’s two tots. The soaps star real-life soap stars (e.g., Susan Lucci, Laura Wright) in an invented saga of the disasters and tribulations of a successful businesswoman. They are a retreat from reality for Terry but a bitter foreshadowing of Joy’s business life. Casting real-life soap stars as fictional soap stars is another variation on the mix of fiction and reality. So is casting Joan Rivers’ daughter as Joan Rivers.
    Joy’s husband Tony is a victim of the American Dream. The Portuguese immigrant dreams of becoming a successful singer. Two years after the divorce he’s still living in Joy’s basement rehearsing for his dead end local club gigs. He won’t be the next Tom Jones. He embodies the failure of the dream success. Still, he has the character to remain Joy’s friend and protector. He’s proved right to reject the advice forced on her by Joy’s financier and father.
    In contrast to Tony is the Haitian plumber Toussaint, who comes in to fix a broken pipe under Terry’s floorboards but stays to break through her antagonistic shell into an apparent relationship. This is the American Dream working at a modest level, giving an immigrant the chance to live a modest success without unrealistic aspirations of glory. Toussaint has the character to live a realistic ambition that Tony lacks.
    Joy’s father Rudy is another modest American success story, a small auto body business owner. When he hooks up with a wealthy widow, Trudy, he succeeds her Morris whose hard work left her with a fortune. Joy turns to her to help fund her invention of an advanced mop, but Trudy keeps her in constant uncertainty and humiliation. Even after her success, Trudy and Rudy force her into premature bankruptcy, Rudy undermines Joy’s business strategy, and — as the narrator reveals at the end — lost an attempt to sue her for possession of her entire company.
    This is not the Father Knows Best American family. To the contrary, Joy’s parents remain violently bitter even after their divorce. Rudy’s other daughter Peggy, by his first wife, is jealous of and antagonistic to Joy. She conspires with Rudy against Joy. At her lowest point, when it appears Joy will lose her mop patent and company to her fraudulent parts supplier, Rudy apologizes to her for having nourished her delusions of being special.
    The only positive figures in Joy’s life are her grandmother Mimi and her own little daughter. Joy isn’t presented as an American Dreamer but as a self-reliant, creative woman who, having been clobbered by life, resolves to pull herself out of the dump. The obstacles amass but she forges on. She doesn’t go on the shopping TV channel because she wants to become a star but because she thinks she can do a better job selling her mop than the channel’s star seller but hapless mopper could. Joy is a success because she knows her own abilities and does not accept either defeat or her family’s discouragement.
    Granny Mimi appreciates Joy’s qualities and encourages her. As the film moves between the reality and the fiction of American success Mimi continues as our narrator even after she dies. Fiction outlives reality.
    That’s the thing about the American Dream. There is an element of truth to it — America is the land of opportunity. But there are no more guarantees about its rewards than there are about the prospects of a successful marriage — as Rudy drunkenly and viciously rails at his daughter’s wedding. America, like families and like life, offers opportunities but with it dangers, threats, betrayals, disappointments and terrible dishonesties. Ultimately there is no dream promise in America, only what you make and find in yourself.
    Perhaps the film’s central emblem is Joy’s mop. It’s a dense weaving of cotton strands that are far more absorbent than earlier mops. Like Joy it can simply take more. It can be wrung without touching the dirtied head, which can be removed and tossed into the washer. This film is a dense, complex, inventive twist of a story that comes clean on success and failure in American families and business.

  • For the third time in as many years, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro are appearing in a film by the freewheeling David O. Russell. Make no mistake about it though, this is strictly JLaw’s show. She plays housewife-turned mop inventor, Joy Mangano. In 2015’s Joy (my latest review), Lawrence doesn’t push her character too hard. Her performance is raw, underplayed, and it doesn’t feel like she’s grandstanding (or clamoring for an Oscar like in Russell’s two previous flicks). This is probably the best work she’s ever done and the movie despite having a sort of pat ending, is David O.’s strongest since 2004’s I Heart Huckabees.

    Anyway, Joy’s look is bleak and its statement suggests that events are slightly based on a true story. There’s a fantasy element involved here, a dash of whimsy, and a vibe akin to the age old tale of “Cinderella”. Joy’s trailer tagline reads, “FIND IT”. What I found mind you, was a sense of solace right after the closing credits came down. The only “joy” in the world is to begin. Duh.

    Russell who usually directs with messy fortitude, parlays things straightforward this time around. And for the first time in a while, his musical soundtrack (including lost long Rolling Stones nuggets, Bee Gees relics, and Cream favorites) really does fit the scenes and the rhythms of the actors/actresses. In Joy, he bullies and frustrates his viewership only to have them salivate for his muse to achieve the taxing, American dream. It’s a bruising journey containing themes of cynical consumerism, unnecessary self-doubt, and family dysfunctionality (a David O. Russell mainstay).

    The story is as follows: Joy Mangano (Lawrence) is a single mother with two kids and an ex-husband who lives in her basement (Tony Miranda played by Edgar Ramirez). Her mother, her father, and her grandmother also live there too. Her mom (Virginia Madsen as Terry Mangano) does nothing but sit on the bed and indulge in daytime soaps. Her pops (Robert De Niro as Rudy Mangano) runs an auto shop and shares said basement with Tony after getting kicked to the curb (by one of his ex-wives). Joy always the creative type, works at an airport and is the poster child for misery. On a whim, she decides to invent a revolutionary mop after spilling wine on a family boating trip. Unable to sell it by way of getting a loan from Rudy’s girlfriend (Trudy played by Isabella Rossellini), Joy ventures to a home shopping network to get people to see its genius by purchasing thousands in bulk. The guy who helps her out, believes in her, and gets the ball rolling is executive Neil Walker (played by Bradley Cooper). Walker quips, “all right Godspeed, gold luck, here we go”. Indeed.

    Now for the majority of Joy’s 124-minute running time, Russell opts to make Lawrence’s Mangano a veritable centrifuge. This semi-fictional character is under a strict microscope. Everything is on her, everyone judges her from a distance, and every other trouper (De Niro, Cooper, Madsen, Elizabeth Rohm) seems to be in her gleaming foreground. This again, harks back to the fantasy element I boasted about in the first paragraph. Nevertheless, with a couple of finger points, a couple of heavy breaths, and all kinds of starry-eyed nuances, Jennifer Lawrence just kills it. Academy Award nomination beckoning? I sure hope so.

    In conclusion, certain critics (not this one) seem to think that Joy’s premise contains nothing that’s at stake. I say hogwash. Sure were talking about selling a mop here but in jest, a woman’s livelihood, dignity, financial standing, and sense of belonging (to her family) are forcefully on the line. According to the movie, Joy Mangano’s world is a cruel one, filled with double-crossing business associates, cutthroat network bosses, resentful half-sisters, and buzzkill fathers. And yeah its ending (as mentioned earlier) has the need to wrap things up nice and neat. No matter. For ninety percent of Joy’s running time, you sense that this is the culmination of everything bountiful to David O. Russell’s, decade-plus career. It’s the cockamamie, reverie fest he was born to make. Amen. My rating: 3 and a half stars.

    Of note: In Joy’s early third act, you have Melissa Rivers deadpanning her late mother in a cameo via the QVC network. She plays Joan Rivers in a segment where she’s selling product and wink winking to the audience. Neat. Also in bits and spurts, I had no problem with Joy Mangano’s grandmother (played by Diane Ladd) narrating Joy’s roller coaster plight. I just wish it was sprinkled more evenly throughout. Oh well, just a minor oversight.

    Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

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  • What to make of Joy, a work in which director David O. Russell buries a very good film under a mountain of nonsense and a maelstrom of babbling neurotic dysfunction? Joy features a gloriously brassy and fearless performance from his muse, Jennifer Lawrence, who is utterly fearsome in her ferocity. It also contains an excellent supporting turn from Russell’s other muse, Bradley Cooper, who very nearly runs away with the movie. There is not one weak link in Russell’s deep roster of talent, including Robert De Niro, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Elisabeth Röhm, Édgar Ramírez, and Diane Ladd. But Joy is an absolute mess and there’s nothing Lawrence, Cooper, or any of the actors can do to disguise it.

    Russell’s intention to loosely adhere to the facts of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano’s (Lawrence) life, not to mention tonal coherence and narrative clarity, is revealed by the opening moments which lurchingly segues from a deliberately ludicrous soap opera scene (featuring Emmy-winning luminaries of the medium such as Laura Wright, Maurice Benard, and the unsinkable Susan Lucci) to a title card announcing the film as inspired by true stories of daring women, one in particular whose tale will be told by her grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd).

    The storybook narration and ensuing scenes would seem to posit as a type of Cinderella, a goodhearted dreamer surrounded by bickering naysayers. This is no regular fairytale princess, however, for Joy decisively declares that she needs no prince to fulfill her dreams in life. Life does not always go as planned as the adult Joy realises when she wonders what has happened to her life and the dreams she used to have.

    This is what has happened: her mother Terry (Madsen) has sequestered herself in the comfort nest of her bedroom, dealing with the aftermath of her divorce by escaping into the world of soap operas; her father Rudy (De Niro) isn’t any better off, shuffling from one woman to another before settling into a romantic affiliation with an Italian widow named Trudi (Rossellini), who guards her late husband’s finances like an overprotective lioness; her ex-husband Tony (Édgar Ramírez) is living in her basement and still dreaming about being the next Tom Jones; and her sister Peggy (Röhm) is a bitter woman who has nothing but discouraging words for Joy. Joy has deferred her dreams to preside over this crazy, calamitous clan and now it is time for her to rediscover what she is capable of after a dream in which her young self says that they’ve been in hiding for so long that they have even been hidden from themselves.

    Where Joy genuinely soars is during Joy’s efforts to introduce her new product, the self-wringing, super-absorbent Miracle Mop, to a parade of unconvinced individuals beginning with Trudi, who begrudgingly provides her with the capital, to Neil Walker (Cooper), an executive for the relatively new TV network QVC. Every scene in which Cooper appears is arresting, not only because of his supremely confident portrayal and natural chemistry with Lawrence, but because his scenes comprise the film Joy should have been. To watch Joy persuade Walker of her product’s potential; to observe as he tours her around the QVC headquarters with its pristine test rooms, rotating soundstage, and the beehive of behind-the-scenes maneuverings; and to finally see Joy triumph and come into her own as her love and passion for her creation reaches thousands of television viewers is to experience a harmonious fusion of serio-screwball, modern woman’s picture, and rousing rags-to-riches tale of self-fulfillment.

    Alas, that glittering promise of a film is barely seen again as Russell piles on more familial discord and reversals of fortune. The director applies the same rambunctious energy here that he used in American Hustle, but it comes off as ramshackle, unfocused and mere narrative spackle. It’s surely a sign of something adrift when four editors are credited and the resulting film is slack and almost shapeless.

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  • Once again, I’m blasted out of the water with a movie, Joy, that is a true story with a writer who is also the director. It does have its slow points in the first half but you cannot help but fall for the lead, Joy, because it is her determination that drives everything. She pulls you along as well as getting things to work out the way she knows they should.
    David O. Russel has put together a story that goes from an ordinary horribly dysfunctional family to the same thing with one member making it big. This is where the advertising misleads you. The family is promoted, in the trailers, as a source of much humor and fun because of the convoluted way in which the family functions. In the movie, the family is as convoluted as advertised but there’s very little humor in it. This is a seriously dysfunctional family and Russel’s script spreads that dysfunction around so no one escapes it. In doing this, however, the first half of the movie sort of rumbles along slowly. The second half moves with a good clip, which only makes the first half seem more depressing. As the director, Russel has made his characters carry their dramatic weight and, in the end, it works out very well as we see the characters grow and change.
    Jennifer Lawrence is the title character, Joy, and you can just watch her become her own person and take control of her life only to see her become, understandably, hard and self-protecting by the end but not without sympathy when she sees herself in others. Robert De Niro plays her father who has enough trouble taking care of himself without having to be a father. His character is a driving force in Joy’s actions. Virginia Madsen plays Joy’s mother who is pretty much no help at all as her mother invests in the soaps what she should be investing in her family. Diane Ladd is Joy’s grandmother and the one person, other than Joy, who is working to hold this family together.
    Isabella Rosselini plays against type, as Trudy, and is mean and not a nice person. She handles it easily and by the end of the movie you just want to slap Trudy. Edgar Ramires does a very nice shift as Joy’s ex-husband Tony. He may be freeloading and unable to let go of his dream but by the end of the movie you’ll wonder how they ever got along without each other. Bradley Cooper plays Neil with confidence and he looks like he’s going to be more than just the guy in charge of QVC.
    Not one of these performances has a misstep. They are all believable and relate to the others honestly from beginning to end. This is what makes this movie work even as you realize it’s not going to be terribly funny. I wish releasing companies would have more faith in their product and stop trying to make it look one way when it’s another way all together.
    Also, keep an eye out for some very good and funny performances from Susan Lucci and Donna Mills doing some great send ups of acting in soaps. Then there is Melissa Rivers playing Joan Rivers in a spot on performance. And don’t blink or you’ll miss Ken Howard doing a supporting role.
    I give this movie 3 ½ mops out of 4. It’s a good movie that is well done, if a little slow in the beginning. Don’t let the misleading trailers distract you.

  • (Rating: ☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is not recommended.

    In brief: Clean-up in Aisle 4

    GRADE: C

    The usually reliable David O. Russell lets down his fine cast of performers in his latest film, Joy, which doesn’t quite live up to its title. Except for a strong performance from its lead, the delightful Jennifer Lawrence, the film remains a major disappointment.

    The film is loosely based on the true story of inventor Joy Mangano, but the screenplay also written by its director is a mess that needs to clean up its act. The film swings wildly between comedy and drama but never stays long enough to be effective in either category. Joy, winningly played by Ms. Lawrence, is interesting and the actress brings some verve to her role, but all of the supporting characters around her are sketchy and never amount to much more than quirky curmudgeons whose actions are so over-the-top that they never resemble anything remotely believable.

    The plot: Joy’s life is in shambles (but then, so is the script). Living slightly above the poverty level and sharing her household with her dysfunctional divorced parents, Terry (Virginia Madsen), a reclusive soap opera addicted mother, and Rudy, a crotchety self-absorbed father (Robert De Niro) who takes up with a rich Italian widow named Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), Joy’s ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez), who is trying to be a professional singer, Peggy (Elizabeth Rohm), her jealous stepsister, a doting grandma, Mimi (Diane Ladd), and Joy’s two adorable children. Still her creative impulses compel her take action and change the direction her life is taking, which leads Joy to her long-time friend and adversary in business, Neil (Bradley Cooper), who gives her moral support on her latest venture.

    However, none of these relationships build to any satisfactory conclusion due to the stilted writing and uneven tone of the film. The ending also seems pat and forced as it quickly tries to tie up its loose ends, be they cotton or synthetic.

    With all of the talent involved, sadly, Joy is a joyless filmgoing experience.

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  • “The world doesn’t owe you anything.”

    David O. Russell had the best weekend of his career with $17.5 million for Joy, but the inspiring true story of Joy Mangano, a self-made millionaire who created her own business empire, left me bored and uninspired.

    With the exception of 2010’s commercially successful The Fighter, director David O. Russell’s resume consists of underground indie movies such as Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees. Then came Jennifer Lawrence who propelled both their careers into the mainstream spotlight– they’re the peas and carrots of Hollywood.

    The new era of David O. Russell has become more accessible with the help of his holy trinity of actors–Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert de Niro who all starred in his highly praised Silver Linings Playbook and the mediocre yet entertaining American Hustle.

    O. Russell brings out some of the best performances from his actors, and with such a steady mainstream climb, I thought Joy had the potential to be great.Three times a charm, right? Not quite. What I was given instead was an ambitious attempt at making me care about a character who offers little to care about. Her struggles, debt and family turmoil conclude with a cookie-cutter triumph in the end.

    So what’s David O. Russell doing with this movie?

    The story of Joy follows Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of three in the early 1990s, who invented the Miracle Mop becoming an overnight success often selling on the Home Shopping Network and QVC.

    The film is a somewhat fictionalized account of Joy’s quick rise to the top with inspirational intentions that fall flat. Lawrence recently told TIME that the movie is only 50% inspired by Mangano. The other half, Lawrence says, comes from “David’s imagination and different daring women that have inspired him.”

    Unfortunately, the inspiration didn’t translate on screen.

    As the mortgage, the phone bill, the plumbing and other relentless problem’s in Joy’s life mount, I’m being spoon-fed how Joy is a superhero woman. Sure, she’s a tough protagonist, but I feel completely empty watching this story unfold despite Jennifer Lawrence doing her damnest to give another great performance.

    But it’s dull. Joy is absolutely begging for me to care about it, but I’m too busy counting the minutes till the credits roll.

    None of the characters in Joy are inspiring; we may be shown inspirational acts or monologues, but the payoff is lacking that certain je ne sais quoi. The script is very functional at mapping out how brilliant Joy is as a mother, daughter and working woman; even certain dialogue is transparent at spelling out her brilliance in case you didn’t quite get it in every single scene.

    You know what David O. Russell scene really inspired me? Robert de Niro’s monologue in Silver Linings Playbook to Bradley Cooper’s character assuring him that he’s going to do everything he can to make sure he gets back on his feet. Remember that emotionally-charged scene? Yeah, you’re not going to find that type of inspiration in Joy, nor will you root for any of the characters like you have in past O. Russell films. You just won’t.

    O. Russell also makes the mistake of having Joy’s grandmother, who has been the one pushing her since childhood to pursue creative endeavors, narrate the story. The narration only underscores how little action actually happens, and this narration from a character (who barely graces the screen) is telling us how to understand everything line by line.

    The cast delivers another round of outstanding performances, but (like everyone else is saying in the blogosphere) they’re supported by weak subject matter with little intrigue. I don’t think this cast necessarily needs to take a break from their steadfast director, but David O. Russell needs to find the inspiration like he had in Silver Linings Playbook to deliver something great in the future.

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