I’m sure you’ve heard the cliché, “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, this saying perfectly describes the new Jennifer Lawrence film, Joy.
Joy is loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano (Lawrence), the inventor and entrepreneur. We join Joy’s fragmented family in New York in the 1980’s. She’s a single mom with two young kids. Her mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen) never gets out of bed and spends her time watching soaps. Her grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd), has always handed out encouragement to Joy. Joy’s ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez), lives in the basement. Her dad, Rudy (Robert De Niro), shows up on her doorstep after being dumped by his latest wife. Life has definitely handed Joy some lemons.
Struggling to make ends meet working customer service at a small airline, having to do her own plumbing, and trying to keep the peace at home, Joy has her work cut out for her. One might think she would have plenty of reason to throw up her hands and quit, but she doesn’t. She’s gentle with her kids and kind to the menagerie of people who cross her doorstep.
When Joy cuts her hands trying to mop up spilled wine plus broken glass, she has the idea for a self-wringing mop. Using her daughter’s paper and crayons, she starts sketching designs for what would become the Miracle Mop. Through one of Tony’s friends, she gets an interview with Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), of the QVC shopping network. As Neil gushes about how great his sellers are, he promises that her mop will sell. She puts all the money she has as well as an investment from Trudy (Isabella Rosellini), her father’s latest flame, into making 50,000 mops. It does not go well.
Joy as a film is as much of a mess as the one being mopped up but Jennifer Lawrence does a great job of keeping the audience rooting for Joy all the way. While to say the family dynamics are dysfunctional is an understatement, the parts of the film following Joy’s invention and efforts to sell it are fantastic. There’s a great shot, after Joy has convinced Neil to allow her to try and sell her own invention, where she’s standing on the rotating stage, waiting for her turn. It’s a metaphor for her the twists and turns of her own life.
Joy’s talent at pushing her special mop makes her an overnight success and she thinks her troubles are over. Not so. Her bumbling father and interfering half-sister (Elisabeth Rohm) do business on her behalf. Because of their actions, legal problems ensue and Joy is, once again, at the end of her rope. But through it all she has learned a tenacity that will not allow her to give up. She perseveres through everything thrown at her and comes out on the other end.
Joy recalls another film, Flash of Genius (2008), the story of the man, Bob Kearns (Greg Kinnear), who invented the intermittent windshield wiper. Both are David-and-Goliath stories of normal people with an idea up against big business. They are both good stories for today’s culture that often steps on the “little guy.” It’s people like Bob Kearns and Joy Mangano who have worked so hard for their families who deserve our respect and support. At risk of sounding too political, support small businesses. And since I started with a cliché, I’ll end with one that I think is appropriate: don’t forget to be encouraging, supporting, and kind. You never know what someone else is going through.