Dysfunctional relationships and flawed characters are the cornerstones of David Russell films. Be it Silver linings playbook or The Fighter or American Hustle, Russell formulates each entity of the story into such paradoxes that you keep thinking – “Yes I like this personality but oh wait..there’s this other side as well. So which is the real one?” Such complex characterization is what the appeal is truly about. Human beings are complex creatures. There are no blacks and whites, only greys and Russell is adept at bringing out those greys to his audiences.
Joy is a semi-biographical screen adaptation of Joy Mangano’s life, a young businesswoman in the 1990s who became an overnight success with her invention of the Miracle Mop. In the first 10 minutes into the film, you get a quirky and comic picture of exactly how dysfunctional the family is. The narrative begins with Joy’s grandmother forming a background to Joy’s life, how she was a dreamer and an innovator even as a child, which becomes the foundation to her determination and drive in the later part of the story. Joy’s mother (played by Virginia Madsen), after the divorce, is a character who lives in denial and finds comfort in her imaginary world of soap operas while the father (played by Robert Deniro), a veteran businessman with a struggling business, fleets from one woman to another through a telephone dating service, quoting in the typical Deniro fashion – “I have to fall in love or I am not interested, you know me.”
Soap operas provide an interesting element throughout the film when seen through Joy’s eyes and when seen through the audience’s eyes as well. The treatment was as if Joy saw her life as a soap opera, her brain subconsciously picturizing her daily life as soap-operasque dreams where she finds herself trapped by her own family. As an audience, we get the feel that we are watching a soap opera as well, owing to the comical drama throughout. What makes the drama seem real is the utter lack of any background score during the mundane family tussles, which somehow strikes a chord with the audience. What gives it an opera-like mood is the score that plays at every important event in Joy’s life. Her situation is aptly metaphorized in a scene where she is reading a book on Cicadas to her daughter which says that a Cicada buries into the ground and stays hidden for upto 17 years. This particular fact baffles and irritates her as 17 seems to be a rather random number. Maybe it subconsciously resonates with her own life, where she has been hiding her true feelings from her family who are a constant buzz of cicadas.
Even though she has lived her life having her dreams utterly disregarded, Joy is a realist. Unlike her mother who is also a dreamer, Joy is a doer as well who has got the insight and the common sense to execute her dreams into a business. She is a fighter who, even after her own dysfunctional marriage with two kids, doesn’t give up on the future she has envisioned. She has retained that entrepreneurial spirit that her father has so clearly lost.
Jennifer Lawrence is a revelation in her character. She accurately portrays a woman who has lost sight of her dreams, engulfed in the everyday drama. Her face depicts the frustration of a dreamer shackled into submission by circumstances. The paradox emerges wonderfully as we are made to feel sorry for her, silently praying for her to be happy. As if thats all there is. Thats exactly when we see the transformation as she gets a bright idea and dives into creating the Wonder Mop. Thats when we nod our heads saying – No, just happy survival is not enough. Life needs a purpose. Lawrence executes this paradox with a masterstroke.
Bradley Cooper is classy in his portrayal of a seasoned Marketeer who knows what will sell and what wouldn’t. He shows Joy the potential of Telly-Marketing and gives her the much-deserved opportunity to pitch her invention to millions of Americans on Live TV. That is not the end of the struggle though as she has to convince investors and other marketers about the potential of her product against their typical consumerist arguments that – “Why would we sell a mop that people would have to buy just once. We want them to buy stuff again and again.”
Joy is so many things. It is not only an inspiring story of a dreamer who refused to give up, it is also the story of how often women are disregarded for their ideas and are treated just as nice faces for people to see as in a comment from a fellow TV presenter – “She has nice legs, show her legs.”, to which Lawrence replies by being herself, comfortably wearing a business attire of shirt and trousers. You go girl !
Oscar 2016 nominations:
Best Actress: With her exact projection of an empowered woman who rose up from the inherent drag of life into a successful self-made millionaire, Lawrence has established herself as a credible actor right beside her male counterparts. The JLaw brand has become very bankable and rightly so. Her very first pitch in front of cameras, showing an anxious and slightly frightened commoner to her transformation into a woman who genuinely believed in her product and could touch the lives of millions of Americans, is a treat to watch. JLaw has a real shot at this one.
gobblpoint: This story is a revelation about all women out there who are living with their dreams and want to do something about it. Watch it, get inspired and change the world! Take your family too if you want to show them how silly family tussles really are.
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