Editor’s Notes: Joy will be released on its respective home video format on May 3rd.
Joy (20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment), directed by David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle), stars Jennifer Lawrence as the title character, the center of a dysfunctional family. Joy works three jobs, looks after her shut-in mother (Virginia Madsen) and two kids, and gives her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) a home in her basement. Joy’s divorced father (Robert De Niro), needing a place to live between girlfriends, joins the former son-in-law he hates in the basement.
When her dad takes up with wealthy widow Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), Joy sees a way to a better life for her family. She has an idea for a self-wringing mop that she believes will be a big seller, but she has little capital and knows nothing about patent searches, contracts, design specifications, manufacturing, pricing, royalties, or any of the other aspects of starting a new enterprise. With Trudy’s investment and access to lawyers, Joy is on her way.
Her entry into the world of capitalism has its ups and downs, which director Russell chronicles in a series of vignettes illustrating Joy’s rocky journey. Her drive and persistence finally lead to a segment on the QVC shopping network.
Her contact at QVC is Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), an executive who believes in Joy and gives her a break that catapults her to greater level of responsibility. In another film, this might be the happy ending, but Russell continues to follow Joy’s circuitous pathway through yet more complex difficulties and setbacks to eventual success.
Joy is based on the real life story of Joy Mangano, creator of the Miracle Mop and a number of other household inventions that made her a millionaire. She began inventing at the age of 15 with a fluorescent flea collar designed to keep pets safe. Unable to pursue a patent on her own or persuade her do-nothing mother to help, she was forced to abandon her invention and watch helplessly as Hartz Mountain introduced the same product the following year. Hurt and angry, she vowed to bring her next big idea to market herself. With the hard-won success of the Miracle Mop, she invented and brought to market other winning products, including Huggable Hangers, a home odor neutralizer, and wheeled luggage with organized compartments.
Joy Mangano’s story is a kind of Cinderella-of-business tale. Joy is a hard-working woman who never gives up. She has a talent for coming up with gadgets that her own experience tells her people will want, and the determination to get them to the public however tortuous the route. Her vision necessitates fighting with relatives, confronting disreputable partners, accusations of fraud, and the looming possibility of losing her heavily mortgaged home.
Ms. Lawrence’s obvious star power enhances our sympathy for Joy and impels us to root for her. The script requires the actress to show a range of emotions, from utter dejection to hardened resolve, and she is adept at conveying it all believably.
As Joy’s father, De Niro plays a loose cannon of sorts, an inept businessman who leans on Joy for her accounting assistance at his garage and relies on her for a place to stay when he’s tossed out by her half-sister (Elisabeth Rohm). This is not one of De Niro’s finer performances. He often looks ill at ease and unsure how to play a scene. His portrayal is unfocused and takes away from our immersion in the plot.
Diane Ladd plays Mimi, Joy’s grandmother and inspiration. She narrates the film and provides occasional off-camera insights. The role isn’t dialogue-rich, but she conveys kindness, understanding, and an appreciation of Joy’s potential that the other family members fail to recognize. She and Joy seem to be the only anchored individuals in the family.
Exceptional supporting performances are turned in by Ms. Madsen as Joy’s television-addicted mom, Dacha Polanco as Joy’s lifelong friend Jackie, and Susan Lucci as the soap-opera character Danica, seen frequently on the TV screen of Joy’s mother.
Rated PG-13, Joy, in its final third, has a rushed feel, as if Russell were scurrying to tie together plot elements quickly. This part of the picture doesn’t show the care and often quirky detail of the early part of the film, when we get to know the characters. However, by that point, we’re invested in the story and eager to know how Joy’s story will play out.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include a talk by Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell with Maureen Dowd, photo gallery, and the featurette “Joy, Strength and Perseverance,” a profile of the real Joy Mangano.