Dir: David O. Russell
A film about a mop doesn’t sound very tempting, but when it’s the third collaboration for Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell there’s bound to be something to like!
Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a single mother with her ex-husband living in the basement, divorced parents (Robert De Niro and Virginia Madsen) also living in her home, working a job that doesn’t meet her needs let alone satisfy her creative mind. She tenaciously pursues an idea she has for a new kind of mop, yes mop, fighting a barrage of issues both professional and personal along the way.
I keep saying this about recently reviewed films but it was really surprisingly enjoyable. That came as a real surprise to me as the trailer had made me expect one kind of film, the Golden Globes putting it in the comedy categories made me change my expectations considerably, and then the mixed to negative reviews I’d heard made me lower those shifting expectations. In the end, it’s a film that less knows what it wants to be than I know what it is, yet with such a good story and a central performance that covers over so many other failings, it turned out to be a hugely enjoyable film that I would like to see again.
Some elements, especially in the first half didn’t work for me. I found the opening scene in the style of a soap opera was a strange way to start, both showing that what was to come wouldn’t be as expected, yet also not starting on quite the right foot. Some later dream sequences fell flat for me too as much of what they were to clarify was already clear enough from the other scenes. Most oddly, the opening device of her grandmother omnisciently telling the story is established then almost forgotten, so it seemed half-hearted at best. However, when all those things were kept to a minimum it improved considerably.
Jennifer Lawrence is really great in this, I’m already a big fan of hers but honestly she’s excellent. She may be miscast as many have suggested, clearly due to the director’s close working relationship with her and wanting to cast her regardless, but she is so good you quickly forget that she’s too young to be Joy Mangano, you simply ignore that and just enjoy watching her give a great performance. Proof of the quality of her performance is that she makes you rapidly care about a put-upon single mother and even about her mop!
It makes the film sound mundane to refer to it as ‘the mop film’ but strangely that seems to be what’s happening, my brother phoned me the day after I’d seen it and said “I’m thinking of seeing the mop film, is it worth seeing?”. It’s ‘a David O. Russell film’ and ‘a Jennifer Lawrence film’, yet the mop features in such a prominent way that there are scenes, especially when it’s in the hands of Joy herself, that it becomes a supporting cast member. We get to know everything about this mop, how it is made, the amount of absorbent cotton, all the unique features, we get to know it as well as any other character and care about how it gets presented on TV. I could literally hear people in the cinema whispering which USPs to mention as it was sold!
Stated on screen at the opening of the film is that it’s “Inspired by true stories of daring women. One in particular”. This suggests that instead of just telling the story of Joy, it’s more a composite of strong women, using her as the embodiment and structure. The idea of it representing all strong women isn’t really something that convinces me, that’s what you get from David O. Russell when he’s interviewed. When you hear Jen speak about the film it’s about this remarkable woman and her extraordinary strength. That’s a headspace Jennifer Lawrence has acted in many times before, with great success, just look at ‘Winter’s Bone‘ or ‘The Hunger Games’ to see that as a woman who perseveres despite everything pushing back against her, she’s an actress who can convey that with every ounce of her skill and charm, so it’s no surprise she does so here. Viewing the story more as Jennifer Lawrence does but acknowledging that the director had bigger thoughts floating around in his head helps to see what it’s getting at even when it loses it’s way.
It’s not as brilliantly enjoyable as ‘Silver Linings’ but that’s an unfair comparison to be making. Certainly it features the same cast and director, but the story is so completely different and tackled in a completely different way that the similarity between the two films ends at the names of people involved. This relies on the strength of an interesting story about a woman who achieved a lot against some strong resistance, with the ordinary nature of her invention, a mop, being what allows the captivating central performance by Jennifer Lawrence to shine so brightly. If she was a rocket scientist it might sway interest the other way, drawing focus more towards her work. An inventive but everyday mop means that you realise that the truly brilliant part of the story is this remarkable woman achieving something despite the issues that threatened to stop her, just as the brilliance of the film is her portrayal despite the flaws that threaten to spoil it.
‘Joy’ is nominated at this year’s Academy Awards for Jennifer Lawrence’s lead performance. It’ll be a miracle if she manages to win but she holds the film together and that’s why she’s the one element of it up for award recognition.