So, you’re thinking: a movie about the invention of a mop, really? Well, yes, but that isn’t the story that is being told, though it is the excuse for it. This is a tale of self-confidence and possibility and, most particularly, about how women don’t need men to succeed.
Sadly, while Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: Apocalypse) tackles the role with grit and guts, the story forces her to be the martyred saint a few too many times for my taste. To be clear, this movie is a very loose interpretation of Joy Mangano’s life. In some ways, her real story is even more inspiring as she was much more self-made than Russell’s (American Hustle) film depicts. But in many ways it does capture the sense of the obstacles she overcame and the success she achieved.
The challenge, primarily, is the framing of the story, which is told from the grandmother’s, Diane Ladd’s, point of view. It robs Joy of the impact she has on her daughter and family and becomes more a reflection of how the grandmother saw Joy and how proud she was. I think it was to try and frame the story as a holiday (in this case Christmas) story, which was when it originally released. But it makes the story peter-out rather than end on a sense of triumph and ongoing impact of her life. Having her daughter, herself, or even Bradley Cooper’s (Burnt) character narrate it would have been more effective.
Whether powerfully fulfilled or not, there isn’t a bad performance to be had in the picture. Robert De Niro (The Intern) and Isabella Rossellini (Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux prunes)) make a wonderfully flawed pair of older lovers, while Elizabeth Röhm (American Hustle) is almost unrecognizable as the half-sister with a chip as big as the Rock of Gibraltar on her shoulder. On the more positive side of Joy’s life, Edgar Ramirez (Point Break (2015)) and Dascha Polanco (Gimme Shelter) offer some solid support. And Virginia Madsen (Witches Of East End) plays the best Blanche Dubois in ages.
This is a nice change for Russell, whose films had become somewhat templated and ridiculous to me. This returns to his story-telling roots, but with with the years of solid trial and error behind him. The structure may not have been his best choice, but the story will pull you along and the message is a great one for everyone.