“Joy and pain. Like sunshine and rain.” – Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock
David O. Russell’s latest tells a fable grounded in reality of Joy Mangano, who invented a new way to clean floors in the early 90s with the Miracle Mop. It continues his habit during this decade of taking ordinary people and telling their extraordinary situations.
Our title character is portrayed by Russell’s muse Jennifer Lawrence. As a little girl, we see that she loves making inventions with her hands. This leads to the aforementioned mop, though selling it is no easy feat. Her quirky family includes her father Rudy (Robert De Niro, thankfully doing his best work nowadays with this director), who is restless in his love life and in a burgeoning relationship with a wealthy widow (Isabella Rossellini). That widow provides a pipeline to funding the Miracle operation, though not without serious reservations and Joy mortgaging her home twice. Joy’s mother (Virginia Madsen) is essentially an anti-social shut in who exists vicariously through the soap opera characters she watches all day. This allows for some interesting cameos. There’s Joy’s aspiring singer ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez), who still lives with her and serves as a trusted advisor. And Diane Ladd is her constantly supportive grandmother, who narrates these proceedings.
Joy is about the many pains that she must face to convince her family and the consuming public that she’s onto something. The journey eventually leads her to the upstart QVC, headed by a sturdy executive (Bradley Cooper) who conducts the network’s infomercials like an orchestra (her first segment is directed with the energy and enthusiasm we expect from this filmmaker). This allows for the fascinating of seeing Melissa Rivers play her late mother Joan. She soon learns the gloomy side of business, even when success comes. The picture is divided into two halves. The first is mostly about the pain of getting her venture started. The second has more joy and a little more sunshine, but pain is always around the corner. Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock couldn’t have known these lyrics would apply here, but they do.
More than anything, Joy gives Lawrence another platform to shine and she takes advantage. The film never does reach the emotional, comedic, or dramatic heights of previous efforts like The Fighter and, in particular, Silver Linings Playbook. By the movie’s end, we are dealing with a central character who’s gone from sketching her designs in crayon to a multi-million dollar empire. Yet her saga never feels as fraught with nervous excitement as that regional Pennsylvania dance contest in Playbook. Still, Joy’s strange odyssey is one worth taking due to Russell’s exuberance and Lawrence’s talent.
*** (out of four)