The biopic about the headstrong Miracle Mop creator is deeply flawed in its structure, but is elevated by great work from Jennifer Lawrence.
Joy, directed by David O. Russell, tells the story of overworked housewife Joy Mangano (Lawrence), who has shown vast creativity as a child. Her dreams are put on hold as she struggles to take care of her catatonic mother (Virginia Madsen) who stays in bed and indulges in soap operas.
Joy is raising three precocious children while also dealing with her father (Robert De Niro) and her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez), two men with a mutual dislike of one another, having to sleep in her basement. She is also facing pressure to go into business with her mean-spirited half-sister (Elisabeth Rohm).
One day, while cleaning up a nasty spill, she comes up with the idea of the Miracle Mop, which stands out as “the only mop you’ll ever need” with its machine washable cotton and ability to be rung out with touching the nasty mop head. Using her very low savings and investments from family and friends averaging to over $100,000, she creates the prototype but finds trouble getting it off the ground.
This brings her to Neil Walker, an executive at the Home Shopping Network that relies on celebrity personalities to sell products such as Joan Rivers (played by daughter Melissa). The first broadcast by a popular personality ends with disastrous results, and Joy fights to put herself on camera. Soon, the mop starts selling, but it’s not before long that great fortune turns to even greater problems financially.
Jennifer Lawrence continues her winning streak in performances with David O. Russell, this being their third collaboration behind Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Russell has never strayed from telling stories with powerful women in them, but this is the first one that gives her center stage.
Lawrence, while a baffling choice just based on age, delivers her lines with gusto and determination, never breaking until it seems like rock bottom is near. She swaggers with confidence and keeps a cool head in the middle of this dysfunctional family.
Another standout is Diane Ladd as Joy’s supportive grandmother, who told her at a very young age that she was destined for great things. In an environment of deterioration, she never loses her personality.
However, the rest of the supporting cast show little beyond their one-note written characters. Bradley Cooper, who showed incredible charisma and depth in previous Russell films, is only there to serve the purpose of Lawrence’s character. Robert De Niro is effective as the off-kilter father, but does not develop into something greater. Madsen is a mad delight before her character’s personality becomes stale. Rohm can only do so much with a sister who is not supportive of her sister’s ambitions.
The film peaks when Joy hits the streets to promote her product and puts herself in the crossfire of millions of television viewers. There is real tension in those scenes because it is the sink-or-swim moment. It is the question of if her product will or will not sell (I’ll let you guess the answer, since you probably own a Miracle Mop).
After those moments, the stakes lower and her transition from the top of the world to the bottom of the barrel and vice versa seem unnaturally rushed. To go from someone having to take out a second mortgage on her house to fund her dream to becoming a multi-millionaire is an intriguing story. However, the film feels disjointed in its details. Not helping the disjointed nature of the story is some really hokey dialogue.
Joy presents Jennifer Lawrence at her best, but the same cannot be said for David O. Russell.
Joy is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and runs for 2 hrs.