Year Released: 2015
Directed by: David O. Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper
(PG-13, 120 min.)
“We got here from hard work, patience, and humility. So I want to tell you, don't ever think the world owes you anything because it doesn't. The world doesn't owe you a thing.” Joy Mandango
The American Dream is back. The package is not quite the same, its wrapping a bit faded and frayed, the bow somewhat askew. But inside it’s the real stuff.
A lot of that is because Joy in based on the true story of Joy Mangano, who invented the Miracle Mop while she was making ends meet as single mom raising 2 children.
Of course, David O. Russell uses the story as a beginning not an end in itself, freely admitting that it is half-fiction. That way he can up the ante on the melodrama and comic dysfunction that surrounds Joy.
Thus we have her divorced mother ingesting a daily diet of soap operas in her bedroom, as well as Joy’s ex, a Venezuelan would be pop singer living in the basement, which he has to share temporarily with his ex father in law whose girlfriend has kicked him out.
Harmony is not the order of the day, as we soon see when Joy’s father Rudy (Robert Di Nero) addresses his ex wife Terry (Virginia Madsen):
You know what you are, Terry? You're like a gas leak. We don't see you. We don't smell you. But you're silently killing us all.
It seems the last thing that you would call this crazy setup is …a Wonderful Life, but Joy does have a certain Frank Capraesque quality, her underdog lead (Jennifer Lawrence) a version of Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey. Joy’s a valedictorian who gets accepted into a good college but stays home to ferry the family through her parents’ divorce, just as old George has to postpone his trip around the world to save the family bank when his father dies.
George contends with a slightly daffy Uncle Billy, while Joy has her eccentric parents. While the doddering Uncle Billy in Capra’s film is benign, Joy’s father Rudy only appears to be, especially when Joy hits some bumps on her entrepreneurial trail. His “apology” to her is really more of a gut punch. When she is down.
It's my fault. I gave her the confidence to think that she's more than just an unemployed housewife.
But Joy – incidentally, a lot stronger than good old George Bailey, who has to be recued from throwing himself into the drink by an angel almost as doddering as Uncle Billy – lets the barbs spur her on to success. Kind of like the broken glass that gets embedded in her hand when she mops up a mess of broken wine glasses. It only propels her on to better things, like the invention of s self-wringing mop.
Much of the pull of Joy is the title character herself. For all her outward strength, Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy has a masked vulnerability. We glimpse a shade of defeat in her slumped shoulders for just an instant before Joy, by an act of will, straightens them. After her other recent David O. Russell roles as a widow who buries her grief in blizzard of sexual encounters and anti-depressants, or an unstable-bimbo-airhead wife , Jennifer Lawrence returns to the grounded, salt of the earth character she first played as an unknown actress in 2010’s indie success, Winter’s Bone. Her performance, as always, is flawless.
Robert Di Nero, as her father, seems like he could do this part in his sleep, really a reprise of his role as Bradley Cooper’s sports obsessed father in 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook.
Bradley Cooper doesn’t have a much meat in his role as the infomercial executive who gives Joy her chance, but he makes us believe in his products as much as he does, which in itself is a sort of surprise, coming from Hollywood, the anti-capitalist capital that ironically rakes in the mega-bucks from its viewers as well.
In a year when the Catholic Church, the banks and money managers take big hits in Spotlight and The big Short respectively, who’d have thought this lower division enterprise would be treated with a modicum of respect.
Or that the inventor of the Miracle Mop would get a taste of the exalted treatment last year’s The Imitation Game gave the eccentric genius who cracked the infamous Nazi Enigma Code? While the tech genius who gave us our smart phones, Steve Jobs, is painted as a lonely tyrant and deadbeat dad?
But maybe that is the reality behind the American dream. The true hero is not a high tech whiz kid who revolutionizes the computer industry, but a single mom who creates a product to make mopping the floor a bit easier. You can’t get any more American than that.
Joy lives in Long Island in a tidy little house along with all the multi-generational bits and pieces of her dysfunctional family. Most of the story takes place in winter with a blanket of snow making the two story frame structure look like a lonely, little frozen island.
However, there is some warmth and levity when the family is invited to spend the day on a friend’s large and luxurious sailboat. In fact, their spirits run a little too high, and before long, an errant wave sends all the red wine glasses crashing onto the pristine teak deck.
But that wave washes in some luck, too. Joy embeds broken glass in her hand while wringing the mop as she cleans up the mess. And an idea is born. One that eventually make her a millionaire.
A self-wringing mop. The Miracle Mop!
Let’s trade that red wine in for something more local, Long Island Iced Tea. Just the thing to sip on deck and not nearly so likely to leave a permanent stain.
Long Island Iced Tea
1/2 fluid ounce vodka
1/2 fluid ounce rum
1/2 fluid ounce gin
1/2 fluid ounce tequila
1/2 fluid ounce triple sec (orange-flavored liqueur)
1 fluid ounce sweet and sour mix
1 fluid ounce cola, or to taste Coca-Cola Coke 2L Bottle
1 lemon slice
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour vodka, rum, gin, tequila, triple sec, and sour mix over ice; cover and shake. Pour cocktail into a Collins or hurricane glass; top with splash of cola for color. Garnish with a lemon slice.