Joy movie poster

Release: Christmas Day 2015


Written by: David O. Russell; Annie Mumolo

Directed by: David O. Russell

Does a movie have an obligation to become the very thing its title advertises? Should we feel duped if that title says one thing and then the story goes off and does something else?

No, Joy is not a movie about the emotion. It’s about the person who came up with the Miracle Mop. It’s a vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence post-Hunger Games. It’s depressing and frustrating and strange and cold and a lot of other things that don’t necessarily sell movie tickets. It’s about women’s empowerment, a tip of the hat to entrepreneurship and a Cliffs Notes guide on how to get a product patented. And right now it’s my favorite David O. Russell movie.

Lawrence’s rising starlet may not be the most convincing canvas upon which to base a portrait of struggling 1950s housewife Joy Mangano — there was a crowd of giggling teenaged girls in my screening, three of whom left about halfway in after realizing this wasn’t quite the movie they were expecting. But Lawrence did manage to turn a completely fictitious girl who could shoot arrows more accurately than William Tell and wore dresses that caught on fire into a living, breathing sensation that the world fell in love with. Why couldn’t America’s favorite twenty-something thespian take this role and own it too?

The story of Joy isn’t so unlike the story of anyone who has had to sacrifice most of themselves, including their own happiness, in order to support and care for others. In a time where gender inequality dictated employment opportunities for women, Joy shouldn’t necessarily be thought of as heroically selfless so much as being remarkably resilient, doing what she must to try to make ends almost meet . . . although there is something sort of heroic about having to endure these specific conditions.

She lives at home with her highly dysfunctional family: mother (Virginia Madsen), who never leaves her bedroom or turns off the TV; father, (Robert DeNiro) who has recently moved back in because it once again hasn’t worked out with his significant other; and Mimi (Diane Ladd), who at least provides some moral support. Joy also has two kids. Of course the house isn’t big enough for everyone and dad must share the basement with Anthony (Édgar Ramírez), Joy’s ex-husband, someone whom he doesn’t much care for. The family dynamic is hectic and its important we feel it. Although a rather unconvincing final scene overcompensates for the quagmire that has been Joy’s life up until that point — it’s 10 years on, she’s wealthy and her problems have all but disappeared — the movie proper really takes place in the first half.

Out of these humble, somewhat oppressive environs a billionaire inventor and businesswoman would emerge. Unfortunately she would be totally unprepared for the fiercely competitive nature of commerce. She enlists the help of her father and his new girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), who has a very strong business sense about her, to give her some financial backing and perhaps even some confidence that she could finally legitimately pursue her ambition of bringing an idea she had to the attention of the masses.

So, I guess I take it back. This movie really is about joy, but not in the way you might expect. This is a much subtler, less palpable sense of satisfaction, the kind that one might experience after selling their home but for a much, much lower price than they originally had asked. In what has been for sometime a difficult market to sell in, they should be pleased they sold at all. Lawrence proves once again she is wise beyond her years, shading a character that’s meant to be much older than the actress actually is with layers of humility, dignity, courage and a crumbling, though still existent, sense of humor. This kind of tough skinned exterior is tailor made for Lawrence, and it is a joy to behold once more.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 3.57.19 PM

Recommendation: David O. Russell reunites with Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and DeNiro for the third consecutive film, though this one has much more modest ambitions than arguably either of his previous two projects. It’s particularly small compared to the likes of the hoopla surrounding American Hustle. The Lawrence faithful should warm to her character here while others are sure to gain some insight into how products are converted from pet projects into marketable items. Joy is fascinating on several levels.

Rated: R

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “Never speak on my behalf about my business again.”

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27 thoughts on “Joy

  1. “…there was a crowd of giggling teenaged girls in my screening…” – Oh man, I feel your frustration. They are the absolute pits.

    Anyway, I might watch this, I might not. Guess we will wait and see how it goes. Great review though, always a good read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gracias! Yeah, those poor girls. Half of them apparently didn’t like what they were seeing, so they left. So the theater was a little quieter after that. Good news for me! 😉

      I enjoyed Joy a lot. In my eyes it’s a step up from American Hustle.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am glad that they couldn’t appreciate a more serious story and left you in peace. Giggling children in cinemas is a surefire way to piss me right off!

        Ugh, I really, really didn’t like American Hustle. It was LONG, it was overhyped, it didn’t deliver the goods, despite the fact that it showcased some great performances. I couldn’t even find it in me to review it after I had seen it. What a flat affair.


    • I didn’t really think it was disjointed, but fair’s fair man. I really really liked this movie and thought it was cohesive and darkly comedic. Lawrence and DeNiro played along with it nicely


  2. I love how David O. Russell has recontextualized the very true story of Joy Mangano into that of a contemporary fairy tale. But Joy isn’t some woman waiting around for her prince charming. She improves her predicament with her entrepreneurial spirit. It’s an inspirational story – with a wicked sense of humor – about a hard working single mother with a dream. In an era where critics routinely bemoan the derth of strong roles for women, Joy quietly enters the discussion and gives us exactly that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like how you consider it a contemporary fairytale, I never looked at it that way but the rise from working mother to powerful matriarch filtered through a rather cynical look on the world certainly seems to qualify it. I’ve gotta stop thinking Cinderella every time I Hear the term ‘fairytale’ and start opening up my mind. 🙂


        • Good call! One thing I’m really puzzled by is how poorly this has done with critics and audiences. I haven’t checked its BO intake but man, it’s in the 50th percentile for both groups if u check aggregate sites. It may not be the year’s best, but come one


  3. I think I’ll see this eventually. This is the 3rd review I’ve read – yours, one that slammed it much like Mark up there, and one that loved it. The conflicting reviews make me want to see it.


  4. I had every intention of seeing this yesterday, but stuff happened and I lost my chance. I am on the fence when it comes to Jennifer–I can’t decide if I like her acting or not. There are many others I enjoy watching more (Saoirse Ronan, Marion Cotillard, Alicia Vikander). The chemistry of the cast is a reason to watch it, I bet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Respectfully I would argue that this movie rides on the strength of Jennifer Lawrence. The support she has is good as well, but she is front-and-center as a woman who endures very tough times to finally get that big breakthrough. An interesting character designed to succeed. Those other actresses you list are incredible, and I don’t think Lawrence quite has that experience yet, but perhaps I’d more equate Lawrence with Vikander. Quickly rising, and always exciting to watch. All three of Vikander’s roles last year (that I saw), I loved.


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