An Ode To It
DIRECTOR: DAVID O. RUSSELL/2016
It’s been a year of joy at the cinema. The emotion has run the gamut of characters bearing the name to varying degrees of metaphor, fromPixar actualization in Inside Out to the walled-in repression of Brie Larson’s character in Room. Therefore, it’s only fitting by that the year be capped off with David O. Russell’s latest, which opts to call itself nothing less than the topic at hand, Joy.
The film, starring Jennifer Lawrence as the title character, chronicles the trials and travails of a young, down-on-her-luck single mother who’s flair for invention has been suppressed by an unsupportive family and the struggle for the legal tender. Playing out in the early days of QVC, the home shopping television network, it tells the true life tale of Joy Mangano,inventor of the self-wringing mop.
That’s right, this is in fact a movie about a mop. It’s about the creation of said mop, and the against-all-odds journey of the woman who created it, to be precise. But still: a mop. As far as mop movies go, this is a pretty good one.
Selling a mop movie is an unglamorous venture; just ask whomever cut the trailer for Joy. The fact that Joy’s mop joins Luke Skywalker and Spider-Man as conspicuously absent from its own theatrical preview is telling. Meanwhile, wherever Luke and Spidey have been holed up, housekeeping just got that much more convenient for them. (Did I mention that the mop head is completely detachable, and machine washable?)
The fact that Joy is a year-end prestige picture set in a world of TV kitsch (QVC is made to be Wonderland; soap operas become hallucinatory commentaries, scathing in their condemnation) and hinges on the most mundane of cleaning chores is a beneath-the-surface bit of subversion worthy of Russell’s ever-provocative, unpredictablefilmography.
But perhaps the bigger surprise is just how approachable this movie is. Not only is it the true story of a woman who made good by inventing a tricked-out mop, the film itself is squeaky clean. About thirty minutes in, I realized a strange thing for a Russell film: I wasn’t hearing any foul language. From that point on, I can attest that not one swear word was uttered. Joy is both safe and secure in its storytelling. It’s the rare, non-offensive, solidly accomplished film; something you could take your dear old granny to see, and all parties would likely be satisfied.
Yes, Jennifer Lawrence fires a shotgun in this movie, a moment all too present in all the previews I’ve seen. But far more often, she’s pushing her mop – in more ways than one. The talented actress is terrific in her third pairing with David O. Russell. (This following her Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook and stealing all her scenes in American Hustle.) Also back for return engagements with the filmmaker are Robert DeNiro, playing Joy’s mechanic father, and Bradley Cooper as the QVC top dog. Edgar Ramirez is a bright spot Joy’s supportive ex-husband turned business partner. Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Elizabeth Rohm, Susan Lucci, Donna Mills and Melissa Rivers all show up in increasingly surreal roles.
Looping back around to the opening notion of its title, in Joy we see joy itself as a payoff to positive self-worth, something that must be achieved through innovation and hard work. More specifically, it’s the harnessing of Joy’s own talent for invention, and her decision to commit to it. There is risk and pain and loss and defeat, but as bad as it gets, as we watch Joy fight and struggle her way to success. This is a good story, as predictably humanist as it is.
Sometimes these days we’re quick to reject the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality, but David O. Russell seems to be challenging us to see a deeper contemporary value in this. It would all bear a trite weight about it if not for his subtle flourishes and the knowledge that we’re in the hands of a true experimenter of the mainstream. The joy in the film doesn’t actually soar in the story’s resolution, but in the grace notes throughout, in the small victories.
While Joy itself may not be the awards season contender that some had hoped, the film nonetheless manages to live up to its name.