Review – A Joy To See Lawrence Strut Her Stuff (“Joy”)

If you’ve ever watched HSN or QVC and wondered about those people who invent stuff like the ShamWow or Snuggie, then you’re in luck! Based on the true story of Joy Mangano, the single mother of three who invented the Miracle Mop in 1990 and amassed a fortune, this is the very strange and quirky story of her life.

Told in a jumbled jigsaw-puzzle style by director David O. Russell (who also wrote the screenplay), he has his usual trio of stock players (Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper) play his principles. Lawrence takes point as Joy, the harried divorced housewife who can’t find happiness in her meaningless life. She lives at home with Terry (Virginia Madsen), her practically bed-ridden mother who lives for watching bad soap operas, Tony (Egdar Ramirez) her loser ex-husband who lives in the basement, Mimi (Diane Ladd) her grandmother and the movie’s narrator, and her two young kids. Then estranged dear old dad Rudy (DeNiro) shows up after being kicked out of another home. Yeah, no happiness here, folks.
Once Rudy meets an eccentric widower (Isabella Rossellini), things change as Joy gets an epiphany for a self-wringing mop. Quickly she sets her sights on making this invention and selling it, despite family naysayers and a lack of money. Patents are acquired, money is borrowed, and prototypes are made, but sales are a no-go. However, Tony has an idea; a friend at TV’s QVC might give her mop a shot. QVC executive Neil Walker (Cooper) sees potential in the Miracle Mop and, after a disastrous first try with an incompetent TV salesman, Joy takes the reigns and sells her product herself, making huge sales.
Ah, but all in not joy in Joy’s life. When she sees a glimmer of hope, the bottom falls out with stolen ideas, lost patents, and really bad decisions made by her jealous half-sister, Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm). But just when things are at their worst and you think Joy is about to throw in the towel and call it quits, she quickly rebounds and decides to play ‘the game’ like all the other bastards that have screwed her over.
A decidedly strange film that starts off a jumbled mess with flash-backs, time-jumps, and odd directions, it only finds it footing at the 40 minute mark after Joy starts to make her mop. Then the movie straightens out (more or less) and delivers a tale that is a dramatic, quirky, and beautiful nightmare. Lawrence is the shining showcase (as always) with her dynamic performance and subtle nuances. DeNiro plays himself as usual, and Cooper has some fun with his laid-back secondary character. Rossellini overacts like a playful Brando and Ramirez is wonderful as the ex-husband who still loves and has faith in Joy.
Russell’s script sounds like, at times, an incomprehensible first draft with jarring dialoge, but then it turns and gives such flavorful wordplay that you forgive the latter. Based on Mangano’s real life, she must have had one tough time growing up given the hellish life she faced with her on-screen family. One only imagines what was fictionalized and what wasn’t. Kudos to Russell for shooting several of those tension-filled scenes with such realism that I actually felt uneasy watching them.
Side note: Look for Melissa Rivers playing her mom, Joan Rivers, on the QVC TV show. It’s eerie.                            
Places in the Heart (1984)
The Depression. It’s 1935 and things are bad all over, but a little worse for the Spaulding family of Waxahachie, Texas. The head of the family, Sheriff Royce Spaulding, just got killed accidentally by a kid, and that leaves his wife Edna (Sally Field), young son Frank (Yankton Hatten) and little girl Possum (Gennie James) all alone on a farm that needs tending to. 

Problems mount as the bank has a note on their farm and money is scarce. The scurvy local banker, Mr. Denby (Lane Smith), pays her a visit and begins to pressure her to sell the farm, but a black man named Moses (Danny Glover) who’s also a handyman, appears at her door one night, asking for work. He offers to plant cotton on all her acres and cites his experience. Like in Les Miserables, Edna feeds Moze, he steals her silverware, gets arrested, then when he’s brought back by the police to confirm the theft, Edna seizes the opportunity and lies to the police, saying he’s her hired man. Now she has something to hold against him.

To save the farm, together they grow cotton and take in a boarder, Mr. Denby’s acerbic blind brother-in-law, Will (John Malkovich), who later softens and becomes part of the family. Edna grows a backbone throughout all her ordeals with the manipulative men surrounding her and fights back, getting wants she want when she wants it, especially when it comes to selling her cotton at market time. She becomes fearless.

As the problems around her grow, she grows with it and learns to become an independent women in a man’s world and even finds love again. In the movie’s haunting ending, the cast gathers in church to sing “Peace of God”, and everyone is there, including all the previous deceased townsfolk.

Written and directed by Robert Benton, which got him a Best Screenplay Oscar, this is also the movie that gave Sally Field her Best Actress Oscar where she emotionally said, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me right now! You like me!” Yeah, it’s that good. Tragic, funny, dramatic, poignant, heart-breaking, and triumphant, this movie hits on all cylinders in both acting and film making. 

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