“Joy” is a frenetic and at times screwball comedy with a bleak underbelly. It is inspirational and depressing all at once and features the same energy as writer/director David O. Russell’s last two hits, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.”
It is the third in a series of collaborations among Russell and actors Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro. But “Joy,” with its rags-to-riches theme and fact-based story is more reminiscent of one of the director’s earlier films, “The Fighter.”
“Joy” is about a single, Long Island mother (Lawrence) who beats domestic and financial odds to become a successful inventor and entrepreneur in the early ’90s. The story is very loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the self-wringing Miracle Mop and eventual Home Shopping Network personality.
Joy is an airline clerk whose roommates include her two small children; her angelic grandmother; her mother (Virginia Madsen) whose only hobby is watching soap operas all day; her father (DeNiro) who is divorced from her mother and who shares the basement with Joy’s lounge singer ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez).
From a young age, Joy invented things including a glow-in-the-dark flea collar so that pets could be seen at nighttime. But Joy’s recent circumstances have left her going through the motions.
After years of lackluster jobs, late electric bills, a failed marriage and a deteriorating front porch, Joy picks up where she left off as a child and comes up with her next invention: a self-wringing mop.
Joy goes on to sell the mop to a QVC exec Neil Walker, played by Cooper. (Happily, Russell sticks with Joy’s story and doesn’t feel the need to turn Neil into a love interest.)
But, of course, Joy’s mop doesn’t take off that easily, and she must go on to beat the odds that include a patent issue with a sketchy manufacturer, an arrest, a bankruptcy, a death in the family, a mistaken half-sister, and a showdown in a Texas motel room.
“Joy” is not without its faults, including some misplaced flashbacks and odd dreamlike sequences. But the movie is at its best when it shows Joy’s perseverance despite her obstacles, most of which include her family members. “Joy” is at its best when the camera is on Lawrence, which happens to be most of the film’s runtime.