For most of her life, Joy’s name seemed somewhat ironic.
Oh, she started out joyful enough. She loved making things as a child—stories, songs, dioramas folded from paper. Her grandmother, “Mimi,” told her she was destined for greatness. And who was Joy to contradict wise, old Gran?
But when life’s realities meet life’s possibilities, the realities tend to beat up the possibilities and steal their lunch money. Joy’s parents divorce. She’s her high school’s valedictorian, but she skips college to care for her mother and do bookkeeping for her dad. She gets married … and gets divorced. By her mid-20s, her life looks nothing like her paper dioramas. She works for an airline but detests every minute of it. Her house is full of people who need taking care of. Her children. Her mother, who subsists on a steady diet of soap operas. Even her ex-husband, Tony, who still lives in the basement as he just keeps on warming up for his nonexistent singing career. Oh, and Joy’s father, Rudy, is moving in, too, which means he’ll need to share that basement with Tony (the two men despise each other) and the house with his ex-wife (who loathes the very sight of him).
Joy? Maybe she should consider a name change. Despair has a nice ring to it.
But then one night, after mopping up a mess of wine and broken glasses—shredding her hands as she tries to wring out the mop—she has an epiphany: Wouldn’t it be great if there was a mop head you could wring out without touching it? A mop head you could just chuck into the washing machine when it got dirty?
She starts sketching out some ideas in her daughter’s bedroom and, before long, she thinks she’s made something special. Something, dare we say, revolutionary.
Lots of life’s realities stand in the way of this great idea. She has no money, for one thing. If she even got the mop made, she has no place to sell it. But this time, Joy’s determined to make good on the possibility. This time, reality’s going to have to chill and earn its own lunch money for once.
The movie (based, somewhat loosely, on the life of inventor and eventual Home Shopping Network star Joy Mangano) suggests that Joy has been “hiding,” like a cicada, for about 17 years—ever since her parents divorced, in fact. But hiding or no, she’s been a pretty decent person during that time. She’s a good mother—a job doubly hard when you’re a single mom, like Joy is. And she serves as a sort of mommy for many of the other people in her life, too. Her home is open to whichever family member might need it, no matter the pain or discomfort it might cause her personally.
Granted, sometimes accepting the sort of generosity Joy displays can become a crutch for people. And Joy, once she decides to invent her mop, comes to understand that. So she (quite rightly) tells Tony and Rudy that they’ll have to move out.
Joy tries to include her family in her new business as much as possible. But when their business decisions nearly lead the whole lot of 'em into bankruptcy, she grows tough and resourceful. And throughout the process, she absolutely refuses to accept failure—pushing relentlessly against the walls thrown up around her until they all come down, one after the other.
[Spoiler Warning] Once Joy manages to squelch financial ruin, she's still deeply appreciative of where she came from. She cares for her family (even when, we’re told, they tried to wrest control of her company away from her). She stays on good terms with Tony. And when fledgling inventors come to pitch their products to this one-woman conglomerate, she treats them with the respect she wishes she had been given back in the day.
In flashback, we see Tony and Joy get married in a church. Joy’s first workers are brought in by a Catholic priest. When someone close to Joy dies, a vision of the person seems to snuggle in beside her during the funeral service and hold her hand. A soap opera character also comes back as a ghost.
Women wear formfitting garb. Tony begins dating a wealthy woman named Trudy—finding her by way of a 900 number for widows and widowers. When Joy is about to display her mop on the home shopping channel QVC, Joan Rivers recommends that she wear a skirt to show off her legs.
As mentioned, when wringing out a mop, Joy cuts herself on broken glass. (Relatives pick out shards from her hands with tweezers.) Despondent, Joy violently rips down drawings of her mop, making her daughter cry. Frustrated, Joy goes outside her father’s auto shop to the makeshift shooting range next door and takes down a handful of glass bottles. Rudy breaks several knickknacks and carelessly destroys some origami creations. In the soap that Connie watches, one woman offers a gun to another, encouraging her to use it on someone. Trudy asks Joy whether she’d be (hypothetically) willing to shoot someone who would try to take her investment money. (Joy says she would.)
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. We also hear a small spattering of these curses: “a--,” “b--ch,” and “d--n.” God's name is heedlessly exclaimed a half-dozen or more times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Joy, exhausted beyond reason, is dosed with children’s cough syrup in an effort to get her to go to sleep without dreaming, and someone talks about giving her a hot toddy as well. Tony brings a case of red wine aboard Trudy’s boat. Champagne toasts are offered and drunk. Rudy tells Trudy that she’s “banana flambé with extra rum.” Someone expresses a longing for vodka.
Other Negative Elements
People routinely try to take advantage of Joy—none worse than her parts manufacturers in California. They make mistakes on her plans, overcharge for parts and, when the product becomes successful, raise their rates to the point that each successful sale would drive Joy further into debt. When she travels to California herself to straighten the matter out, Joy discovers that they’re trying to steal her patent and then have her arrested for trespassing. Deeply jealous of Joy's success, her half-sister seems to collude with those scoundrels.
Joy and her friends sometimes use trickery to stir interest in Joy’s invention. At Joy and Tony’s wedding, Rudy stands up and offers a profane, vicious toast insulting his ex-wife and Tony, giving the marriage a very public “50-50 chance.”
Director David O. Russell has plumbed his partnership with Jennifer Lawrence (star of The Hunger Games movies) and Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) for a boatload of critical acclaim. In 2012, the Cooper/Lawrence pairing in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook brought in eight Oscar nominations and earned Lawrence her first Academy Award. Their next collaboration, 2013’s American Hustle, was showered with 10 more Oscar noms.
Alas, both of those movies were horrifically problematic, too. Silver Linings was littered with 80 f-words and some of the most violent scenes ever found in a romantic comedy. Hustle lowered the bar even more, with 100-plus f-words uttered by some deeply loathsome characters.
So for discerning viewers curious about the Russell/Lawrence/Cooper juggernaut but wisely wary of that sort of salaciousness, Joy might be reason for, if not joy, then at least a bit of satisfaction. Turns out, the three of them can also make a, well, let's just call it a vaguely family-friendly movie. (That one f-word is a problem, still, as are a few other content issues.)
Joy will likely not rake in the Oscars the previous two collaborations did. The story is strangely disjointed—a somewhat surreal comedy at first that slowly morphs into a family/business drama. But Russell still shows off his eye for the humorously ludicrous here, and Lawrence and Cooper (though the latter is very much a supporting star, despite the prominence of his name in the advertising) are as charismatic as ever.
In Lawrence’s Joy we meet an everyday hero—someone as strong and determined in her own way as Lawrence’s Katniss, someone who fights for a better life for both herself and her family.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jennifer Lawrence as Joy; Robert De Niro as Rudy; Elisabeth Röhm as Peggy; Édgar Ramírez as Tony Miranne; Virginia Madsen as Carrie; Dascha Polanco as Jackie; Isabella Rossellini as Trudy; Diane Ladd as Mimi; Bradley Cooper as QVC Executive
20th Century Fox
December 25, 2015
May 3, 2016