Dir: David O. Russell (2015)
With Joy, David O. Russell gives us one of the strangest Oscar contenders of recent memory; The story of Joy Mangano who made her fortune by inventing a self wringing mop to sell on a late night shopping network is a bizarre, but undeniably sweet platform for the oddball director to stand. Once again he puts the sharp, funny and charismatic Jennifer Lawrence at the centre as Joy, surrounding her with a family straight out of a daytime soap opera; Much like the ones in the opening black and white credit sequence. Comical, disturbed and dramatically heightened.
Joy is a cleaner by nature; Constantly mopping up after her parents and kids, her promising creative life put on hold after a child and young marriage to Tony (Édgar Ramírez) a wannabe crooner who, years after their divorce, lives in the basement of Joy’s family home. Upstairs her mother (a great Virginia Madsen) watches endless fictional versions of American daytime soap operas. Joy hits it’s stride when Joy’s father (Robert DeNiro) ends up moving back in; The basement divided, Odd Couple style by Joy herself with a roll of toilet paper. Strained and desperate she musters up a plan to create a cleaning tool which may metaphorically help her clean up her own life.
It’s a twee stretch thematically but for all of the film’s silliness there is something kind of inspirational about the way the off kilter director finds and develops his story. Bradley Cooper (slightly flat here) and his shopping network mogul reluctantly are drawn by Joy’s heartfelt drive, putting her on the line and on the screen, bringing the norm to the big time. The struggle moves from the home to the office and the shop floor as the film grapples with an almost fairy tale view of American entrepreneurship.
In the end Russell can’t help but take it to a seedier place, a world where not even the patent on a plastic moulded self-wringing mop is safe. The heroine’s freak out moment is tainted with cliché as she chops her long golden locks off in a dingy bathroom and heads out to take on the world. This is a downright strange film filled with good moments, many average ones and a few cringe-worthy ones which can’t quite put the shine on how average people succeed through innovation. The questions of whether it’s the subject or the construction which is the problem lies at the bottom of some pretty murky mop water.