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When we sat to watch Joy, we forgot that writer/director David O. Russell is fond of stuffing his films full of characters with completely formed back-stories, all of which will have an effect on the main story he is telling. When it works, it is an overwhelming, joyous experience. When it doesn't, hang on for dear life and try to follow all the plot lines. Long story short: Joy is mainly the first kind of film, though it has moments when the multiplicity of characters tends to crush the story. Strangely enough, that is the point of Joy so hang on for the ride.
IN SHORT: Cranky would watch it twice.. [Rated PG-13. 124 minutes]
That says a lot given it is now the time of year where eighty or so films line up, all begging for nominations and statues and Year End Attention. We may be verging on exhaustion, but this is what David O. Russell stuffs into the backstory of Joy, just to get to the main point (and , yes, Joy is yet another "true story" made real on film.)
There was a time in American life when the idea of the American Dream, and how that Dream was to play out, was pretty much flushed down the crapper. The 1950s were idealized -- Daddy Rudy (Robert DeNiro) opened a car repair business which, by the 1970s, looks pretty much like a chop shop (but we live in Manhattan and know nothing about cars so we'll let it go). It puts food on the table. Mama Peggy () divorced Daddy Rudy, but never left the house. She is more than willing to stick a metaphorical shiv into the dreams of anyone in the house. Grandma (Virginia Madsen) lives upstairs, She has "taken to her bed" to watch her stories (soap operas) on teevee, or videotapes of her stories on teevee, and hasn't left her room in a decade or so. Only a broken pipe in her bedroom floor brings a man into her life (that the plumber becomes important to her story is one of the great subplots left out in the dark. Well, that and the brilliant casting of soap megastar Susan Lucci in the television soap Grandma adores [it may be an All My Children pastiche. I preferred Ryan's Hope -- it was more masculine <g>]
In that house lives Sanity, in the form of Joy [Mangano] (Jennifer Lawrence). Joy is a three times married single mother to a little girl (by husband number one, who fled a year after their child was born). Tony Miranne (Édgar Ramírez), ex-husband Number Two lives in the basement and dreams of being a singer. He has a steady gig at a bar but it brings in no money. Tony is, essentially, a drain on resources. A half-sister, Peggy () is also present and always willing to stick a metaphorical shiv in the Joy's dreams. Peggy seems to keep the car repair business afloat. Joy does the books. The rivalry between half-sisters is present throughout the film as dad Rudy tries to get his girls to make nice and work together. [More on that later.]
Joy does not want to end up like her family -- broken marriages, broken dreams, and very little money in the bank if things go bad. The thing is she's doing a real good job of it; ending up like her family. Joy gets whatever work she can to pay the mortgage on the house, mostly cleaning other people's houses and occasionally going to her father, Rudy, to get money to pay the bills (well, she does balance his books...) When there is free time, which is almost never, she commiserates with a childhood friend [Jackie ()] to mutually wonder where it all went wrong.
This is a fair portrait of lower middle class life in the 1970s, folks. Hang on to what you got and try not to lose your mind while doing so.
Dad Rudy dreams of finding another wife and turns to a new service, a 900-phone match-making personals line, back before those numbers turned into high priced phone sex outlets. There he meets (Isabella Rossellini), widow of Morris, and a very rich woman of exotic Italian origins. It is not a hook-up by 21st century standards. It is a fix-up that actually seems to take hold. Now to the point of the story . . .
Cleaning a house mean more than making beds and doing laundry. There was also "mopping the floors," a back breaking piece of work requiring a woman to soak a pole, with a bunch of cotton strings stapled to it, in detergent. Then she would clean the floor, and mop up all the crap that had been spilled on said floor since the previous cleaning. It's mostly food but it is sometimes broken glass and the latter would inevitably damage the cleaning girl's hands when she wrung the dirty water out of the mop; before changing the bucket to clean water and washing the floor down again to finish the cleaning process. Simply, it was back breaking work.
Joy Mangano invents a mop that, essentially, wrings itself. This was a big deal for any woman washing down the floor in days long before cranky could remember (we've always had the doohickey that allows a mop to do the deed) and a really big deal for a woman that Life gave the finger to.
So, Joy has an idea. Peggy "knows people" like a lawyer who gets the ball off the ground with a patent search that reveals a similar product patented, but not produced in Hong Kong. and has other intentions as to the marketing of the product. These include fees paid to a Chinese developer of a similar product -- the pay off is to prevent legal problems, A manufacturing plant in California is hired to build the plastic pieces of the mop (which means there will be a lot more to this in the film story itself) and local woman manufacture the mop. The product that she manages to build Joy has no idea how to sell. The local hardware stores and box stores and places like that won't give a shot to a solo vendor. Attempting to sell the product herself gets her in trouble with the police, which will be a long running subplot in this story, too.
And all along, Jennifer Lawrence holds the story together with the tenacity of a bull. When Tony remembers a friend named Neil (Bradley Cooper) who is involved in some kind of cable television sales thing, the pair head to Pennsylvania and, without an appointment, manage to pitch something called QVC.
Her mop device is one of the first items offered on a new cable channel called QVC. The problem is, QVC has star presenters (like Joan Rivers (perfectly reproduced by daughter Melissa Rivers), only called "Joan" for legal reasons) and some guy named Todd is handed the mop . . . and doesn't know what to do with it. That disaster, and Joy's response to said disaster form the back end of the film, which becomes a very enjoyable sit.
If you think we've just wasted a lot of space telling you the entire story of the film, readers, you ain't seen nothing yet. I mentioned that actor Jennifer Lawrence holds all the madness of her life together with the tenacity of a bull. In what comes next, the fury of the bull is unleashed. It is here that Lawrence will win her nominations and damn well better take home some statues because her performance is the best; the most gripping; the most enervating piece of work the big screen has seen in years.
[It is here that we toss in the towel because the grind f getting through Oscar wannabees is, after 25 years, killing us. As we write this, we still have a couple of dozen to go]
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Joy, he would have paid . . .
The asterisk means we expect Oscar nominations. Certain critics groups have released their lists, even as I write these words in early December. Those critics groups have lost their minds.
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