Home Shopping Network fans the world over should be flocking to theatres to see David O. Russell’s interpretation of the “real life” story of everyone’s favorite Miracle Mop Maven and Queen of Huggable Hangers – Joy Mangano. (Note that Mangano, now the poster child for HSN, began her tv career with QVC.) For HSN and Mangano devotees, we already know Joy’s rags-to-riches a la “Mildred Pierce” tale, but for the uninitiated, “Joy” is the story of a self-made woman with a can-do attitude, albeit laced with plenty of fiction.
Going for a lighter and more “wholesome” look at life with “Joy” than what we’ve seen with his past few films, writer/director David O. Russell creates a soap opera tinged reality with a heightened, almost fanciful, spin that revolves around a long-running soap opera parody serving as a mirroring plot point to the ups and downs of Joy Mangano’s life. Calling on his favorite triumvirate of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro, and then adding the supporting talents of Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini and Diane Ladd to the mix, plus some terrific spice courtesy of soap stars Laura Wright, Maurice Bernard, Donna Mills and Susan Lucci, the result is as huggable as Mangano’s patented hangers! Filled with heart and humor, grit and determination, and entertaining performances, all thrown together in the cinematic wash with a sudsy spin, “Joy” is the perfect uplifting inspiration to ring in the New Year.
Always a dreamer, creator and inventor as a child, Grandmother Mimi believed little Joy would rise above the mundane of life and excel far beyond the lives of her long divorced and dysfunctional parents. She would be “someone.” But Joy, being the loving and caring daughter that she is, gave up on her dreams and put her education on hold to help her parents through their divorce. And just when the time was right for her to follow her own path, she met Tony. A handsome, sexy and perpetually unemployed Venezuelan singer waiting for his “big break”, it didn’t take much for Tony to sweep Joy off her feet and into the church with a whirlwind marriage. Then came the two kids. Followed by a divorce. And being the good caring family-minded soul that she is, rather than take care of herself, Joy became the breadwinner of the family. Her mother Terry lived with her; keeping to herself in bed in her room watching her favorite soap opera, day in and day out for years. Grandma Mimi lived with her, too, and helped take care of Joy’s kids while always rooting Joy on, encouraging her about what the future would still bring. Ex-husband Tony lived in the house as well. Then when Joy’s dad Rudy broke up with his latest fling, he moved into the house. (At least Rudy had an auto shop business, although not doing too well financially thanks to the ineptitude of Joy’s sister Peggy who helped run Rudy’s and who “had ideas” despite no one ever knowing what they were.) Somehow, Joy managed to keep all the balls in the air as she took care of her entire family. But sooner or later the juggling has to stop and the balls start crashing to the ground.
At first, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel when Rudy starts dating a wealthy, but slightly weird widow named Trudy. Could he actually be moving out of the house? One can only hope, especially since Joy’s work shift and hours have been cut. Bills are piling up. Mortgage is past due. One less mouth to feed would be a help. In Rudy’s efforts to impress the family with his newfound potential meal ticket, all are invited in the dead of winter to Trudy’s boat. Unfortunately, Tony also comes along and violates Trudy’s one rule – no red wine on the boat as it will stain the teak decking if spilled. And with the way Joy’s luck has been running, we all know what happens. Glass drops and breaks. Red wine on the deck. Joy is on her hands and knees mopping it up and unmercifully cutting her hands every time she has to wring out the mop. But that leads us to the real story at hand.
Interspersing present day with flashbacks and a loving voice over narration by Diane Ladd’s Mimi, we are transported into Joy’s childhood where her dreams and talents reigned supreme. We see the paper dioramas Joy magically created taking her, and by extension the audience, into what we now know was to become Joy Mangano’s destiny. And we see that long dormant creativity come to life after the glass and red wine incident. We are as inspired as Joy when the light bulb goes off and she envisions the solution to messy mop-wringing. Heading to her daughter’s bedroom with drawing papers and crayons, she designs a self-wringing mop – 300 feet of super-absorbent, hand-coiled cotton that can be tossed into the washing machine after each use. (The supportive 6-year old daughter alone is enough to melt your heart.) But while she may have an idea, it takes money to bring that idea to fruition and money is something Joy doesn’t have.
With an entertaining bent, once the idea of the self-wringing mop is borne, “Joy” picks up the pace and Russell treats us to a more humorous, albeit serious, look at the trials and tribulations of starting one’s own business; the patents, the licensing, the marketing, the shysters and the shady deals, the need for money and more money, the unhappy investors and ultimately, the burgeoning industry of television shopping. Interesting is the sub-plot that is integrated into the film as part of the television home shopping history dealing with the corporate history of Fox and former chief Barry Diller who acquired QVC. Thanks to Tony – who remains Joy’s biggest supporter and clear-thinking sounding board – Joy lands a meeting with Neil Walker, an executive at QVC, whom Joy convinces to sell the “Miracle Mop.” But Neil wants 50,000 units for sale and that requires even more money. With two mortgages on the house and Trudy at the end of her investing, it’s make it or break it time for Joy. Using an existing show host to sell the mop, the result is disastrous, but once Joy convinces Neil to give the product another shot with her doing the on-air selling, history is made. But so are headaches.
As Joy Mangano, Jennifer Lawrence has a character with which to play; to wring emotion from the mundane chores of life while finding her own inner strength along the way, and to do it with Lawrence’s patented off-beat comedic timing and humor and the everyday openness and foibles which we see from Lawrence herself in real life. With a fairy-tale spin and some creatively lit sequences of heightened reality, Lawrence makes us believe that dreams can come true.
Edgar Ramirez shines as stalwart ex-husband Tony. Ladies, this is the ex-husband all should wish for as Ramirez truly embodies the ideal of being a best friend. And who knew he could sing! Bradley Cooper delivers a solid, mild-mannered yet business savvy take on Neil Walker. But then there’s DeNiro. No one plays deadpan better than Robert DeNiro and here as Rudy is no different. With nary an encouraging word for his daughter, but for once, DeNiro is a perfect foil for Lawrence. But just watch him go toe-to-toe with Isabella Rossellini! These two are having the time of their lives. And speaking of Rossellini, she is delicious. One minute she’s like a cunning evil stepmother, the next, a schoolgirl giggling with her first crush. She is a pure delight.
Standout is Virginia Madsen as Joy’s mother Terry. Completely enveloped in the soap opera world of her favorite characters on tv, Madsen is the anchor for Russell’s thematic metaphoric sudsy tone of life imitating art; i.e., Mangano’s story is akin to a soap opera. And Madsen dazzles with glassy-eyed soap immersion.
Fueling the soapy vibe are real life soap stars Laura Wright and Maurice Bernard from “General Hospital”, Donna Mills who is best known for “Knots Landing” and most recently her Emmy winning turn on “General Hospital” and lastly, the legendary Susan Lucci. Using Terry’s obsession with her “story” as a marker for the passage of time, there is no detail overlooked at embracing the soap world. From the days of black and white television to the gorgeous 1980’s Nolan Miller inspired sequined clothes, the hair from the 60’s to the 90’s, the jewels, the sets within a set (kudos to production designer Judy Becker), the dialogue – all are decade perfect over the course of Joy’s life.
In perhaps one of the greatest cameo performances of the year, Melissa Rivers plays her mother Joan, the real star at QVC for many years with her jewelry line and famous bumblebee pins. Melissa is no caricature of Joan. She makes the performance her own while bringing the essence of her mother back to life, tinged with a welcome poignancy.
The film’s real warmth, however, comes from Diane Ladd whose calm soothing voice overs make you feel as if you are being read a story while being tucked into bed at night.
But for some outside-of-the-box lighting from cinematographer Linus Sandgren, visuals are nothing out of the ordinary. Editing, however, feels disjointed at times, undoubtedly due to four editors at play, with a sense almost of each one focusing on a different aspect of the film – one cutting the soap opera scenes, one cutting the QVC scenes, one handling the flashbacks and dream sequences and one for present day. There is definite distinction with the presentation of each creating an almost soap opera serialized texture.
Perhaps the most significant part of “Joy” is that Jennifer Lawrence rises above the more “average” nature of this David O. Russell work. While “Joy” doesn’t have the buoyancy and energy of “Silver Linings Playbook” or the harder-hitting period grit of “American Hustle”, it still embraces Russell’s patented dysfunctional characters and quirky comedic moments that make up this thing we call life. “Joy” may never rise above the soapy suds of dreams and dreamers, but it fills us with joy just to watch, and that’s more than okay.
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by David O. Russell based on a story by Annie Mumolo and David O. Russell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Wright, Maurice Bernard, Donna Mills, Susan Lucci