Release date: 1st January 2016/Watch the trailer here
My New Year’s resolution for 2016 was to go to the cinema more often, and – unlike those resolutions to renew my gym membership or cut back on chocolate (like that’s going to happen) – it’s a resolution that, so far, I’ve stuck to.
Starting as I mean to go on, I concluded December with a cinema trip to see the latest collaboration between Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, and director David O. Russell: Joy. Now, I have a confession to make. I love Jennifer Lawrence, and I’m well aware that I’m in the small minority who holds that opinion right now – that Golden Globes outburst, anyone?
I adored the first film from the foursome, 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook. American Hustle? Not so much. In fact, I disliked it so much that it thoroughly soured my opinion on the quartet. So, when I first saw the trailer for their newest outing, the only thought I had was: yawn. It looked suspiciously like Oscar-bait to me, and what’s worse, Oscar-bait about a woman who made a mop. Seriously?
Well, I stand corrected. Joy had me hooked right from the opening credits – ‘inspired by the true stories of daring women.’ Count me in.
The film follows Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy, loosely based on the real-life Joy Mangano: an inventor and entrepreneur best-known for her self-wringing Miracle Mop. I think a lot of us will be able to relate to Joy. No, we haven’t all invented a cleaning product – but how many of us can say that our childhood dreams haven’t worked out quite the way that we’d hoped for? As a child, Joy was brimming with imagination and big plans to become an inventor. Fast forward a few years, and Joy lives with her two children, a mother (Virginia Madsen) who refuses to step outside the world of soap operas, and an ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) who shares the basement with her father (Robert De Niro, on excellent form). Oh, and she’s not an inventor, either – she’s working a job that she hates and barely covering the bills.
2015 saw an influx of films with strong leading ladies – Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, Daisy Ridley’s Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jennifer Lawrence’s (yes, her again) Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2; and that’s to name just a few. In Joy, we find another woman to inspire us, and another film that passes the Bechdel test with flying colours in what is currently a swirling sea of Hollywood sexism.
We see Joy refuse to give up on her childhood dreams, pinning all those hopes on a self-wringing mop – which, let’s face it, might not be the most exciting invention, but it certainly is useful. Joy has guts. She has tenacity. The road to selling her Miracle Mop is not an easy one, but not once does she give up, despite frequent discouragement, failures and financial struggles. She teaches us a lesson that we could all benefit from.
Joy eventually finds herself at QVC, a home-shopping channel run by Bradley Cooper’s boss Neil Walker (who is sadly underused). She is dressed to the nines in a skirt and heels for her first awkward foray into selling her product on TV, and she immediately changes into her preferred shirt and trousers. Joy shines. Jennifer Lawrence is radiant.
As predicted, Joy is doing well this awards season, gaining nominations left, right and centre (although the focus this year is squarely on Lawrence’s performance – not quite the critical success of David O. Russell’s previous contributions, perhaps). I’ve seen a lot of criticism for Joy, but you know what? I don’t agree with it. Yes, perhaps it is inconsistent at times – sometimes a conventional biopic, but occasionally veering into something slightly more surreal – and I’m not entirely sure that it’s a film that knows exactly what it wants to be, lacking the solid storytelling of some of its predecessors.
I’m willing to overlook Joy’s flaws, though. One of my favourite things about films is their ability to make us feel. I love it when a film stays with me long after I’ve left the cinema, making me feel things that I can take out with me into this big, scary world that we live in. Joy is a life lesson. It made me feel inspired, empowered, and uplifted, and it’s a film that I’m glad I watched at a particularly difficult chapter in my life. Afterwards, I found myself asking, what would Joy do? I think that she made the right choice.