Skip to content

JOY (2015) review

December 27, 2015



written by: David O. Russell
produced by: John Davis, Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon, Ken Mok & David O. Russell
directed by: David O. Russell
rated: PG-13 (for brief strong language)
runtime: 124 min.
U.S. release date: December 25, 2015  


Third time is not the charm for writer/producer/director David O. Russell and his trio of actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.  Having previously worked with those actors in “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”, Russell’s new movie, “Joy” winds up being the least of three.  It seems like a these four talents just want to hang out together because they like each other’s company, since the tone and style seem to be on autopilot and the story just isn’t very compelling. Not to mention the lead feels miscast. Deceptively, this movie is being released on Christmas, leaving moviegoers to believe there must be some connection to the holiday season based on the title and the poster. Not even close.

Actually, “Joy” is about Joy Mangano the woman who invented the Miracle Mop. If you’ve never heard of that household cleaning appliance from 1990, then one (or all) of the following – too young to remember, never mopped a floor or never caught TV in the early 90s. Mangano was a divorced mother with three children from Long Island back then and became a hit at age 34 when her invention drew astronomical numbers on QVC.  The movie was made to tell the story of the woman behind the woman seen on television.

Writer/director David O. Russell obviously saw something about Mangano’s rise to entrepreneurship and approached the inventor, letting her know he intended to tell her story. Turns out only about 50% of Mangano’s actual story informs “Joy”. The rest of the film derived from the kinetic mind of Russell, with I’m sure, Jennifer Lawrence in mind.

At a young age,  Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) had been cultivating her creative ideas by developing useful inventions, such as the fluorescent pet collar she made as a teen. She would soon learn how those around her, would be far from understanding of her ideas, dismissive even – especially those with the power to give her a shot at marketing them.




She and her three children live in a house with Joy’s despondent shut-in of a mother, Carrie (Virginia Madsen), a soap opera-addict wasting her life away sitting on her bed watching television. Her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), also lives with them and is more maternal and supportive than her actual mother – although her advice is quite horrible. Joy would hold down an assortment of jobs, like a travel agent, as the only bread-winner of the house. Her unemployed ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez) lives in her basement, leaving her home to resemble a hospitable clown car.

Her older sibling, Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm) is a bitter mess and spends her days helping their father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), with his auto parts business. To add to the madness of her balancing act, she takes in her father, who needs a place to live and holes him up in the basement with her ex, diving their cramped and contentious space with a unspooled role of toilet paper. Amidst all the insanity, Joy’s creative gears are still turning and she follows up on a spark of an idea by building a prototype for a detachable self-wringing mop. Joy hits up Rudy’s affluent girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), to help back her handheld tool. Of course, it’s not going to be easy (otherwise, why make a movie about it?) and although Joy receives the capital to manufacture her product (in her father’s warehouse, no less)  – and receive encouragement from her ex – she hits a series of setbacks, but when her pitch sells her an executive at QVC named Neil (Bradley Cooper), there are signs that her Miracle Mop will sell.




Until about a month before its release, I had no idea “Joy” was about the story of the woman who invented the Miracle Mop. Humph. I honestly didn’t realize there was a cinema-worthy story there, but I was just happy to see Lawrence and Russell together again. As an unabashed fan of Russell’s movies, I figured with his signature swirling camerawork, zingy dialogue and affinity for filling his movies with authentic supporting actors (the sisters from “The Fighter”). Initially, I enjoyed “Joy”, but I later realized that’s because Lawrence is great as always, but there was something lacking, something empty, about the whole thing. It was almost as if Russell and company set out to hit all those signature beats and just move on.

Russell’s screenplay has some great lines and like Tarantino, he has a certain troupe of actors who have the timing right and the knack down for spewing out his dialogue. The best lines are zingers that feel like they are created for the actor who says it, not the character it’s supposed to come from.  At times, the movie does dip back in time to show Joy and her sister as a child or the dissolve of her marriage to Tony – all very informative to who she is in the movie’s present, but it tends to leave some dangling questions too. For example, as sisters, Lawrence and Rohm seem quite combative, especially Rohm’s portrayal of Peggy, who seemingly never gives Joy support, encouragement or any kind of break. She’s quite negative actually, maybe even jealous. There’s no definitive explanation as to why though. It seems odd to establish and reiterate such sibling animosity and yet never reveal the true origin or nature of such feelings.

There are moments in “Joy” that exceed the overall movie, they show up once Joy designs and becomes obsessed with the Miracle Mop. We watch as she grabs her daughter’s crayons and paper and sketches out a rude concept of her mop. We see her struggle with a sketchy plastics manufacturer on the west coast who threatens to ruin her production. We see her and her daughter offer public demonstrations in a K-Mart parking lot in order to create awareness and sell her initial line. All these scenes are great – because of Lawrence, who once again injects a character with the right amount of vulnerability and tenacity to keep viewers invested. My problem is I became more interested in Lawrence than I was in Joy.




In fact, the women of “Joy” really dominate the entire picture. Besides the splendid lead, Madsen, Ladd and Rosellini are great, really making the most of their roles.  During Joy’s trip to QVC we also meet De Niro’s daughter Drea De Niro, who plays a host and Melissa Rivers, who plays her late mother, Joan, in an uncanny resemblance. Speaking of QVC, I found Joy’s introduction to the shopping network quite interesting. We’re shown the network before it really takes off and walk through the rotating stages and back rooms with Joy. Seeing what it took to run the 24/7 channel was enlightening – that is, for a subject I had no interest in to begin with. As expected, the scenes with Cooper and Lawrence are expectedly great – there’s something that Russell can get out these two that even an Oscar-winning director like Susanne Bier couldn’t seem to replicate in 2014’s “Serena”.

The movie’s third act is where we see Joy fight to maintain her success and I imagine that’s where much of the Russell’s imagination plays out. Every challenge Joy faces and every confrontation she has feels like another showcase for Lawrence, to remind us how talented she is. Which brings me back to why I feel she was miscast. My twofold reasoning would be because Lawrence is just too recognizable for this role. It needed an actress who could disappear in the role and also someone closer to Joy Mangano’s actual age, unlike 25 year-old Lawrence. Russell is just too close to Lawrence I guess. It’s not the first time a director has had a muse, but it’s also not the first time such a partnership wasn’t best for the subject matter.

Ultimately, “Joy” exceeds at making something rare – an unconventional biopic about someone hardly anyone knew about. Sadly, it feels like there was either very little to know or the movie didn’t have a chance to show us due to the overwhelming star power present.









Leave a Reply