Film Review: Joy

An exquisite if insignificant production: David O. Russell's story of Joy Mangano and the Miracle Mop


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Written and directed by David O. Russell. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Röhm, Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, Maurice Benard, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Ken Howard, Ray De La Paz, John Enos III, Marianne Leone, Drena De Niro, Madison Wolfe, Melissa Rivers, Donna Mills, Ken Cheeseman, Jeffrey Corazzini, Ariana DeFusco, Bates Wilder.

The story of Joy Mangano and the creation of the Miracle Mop is brought to vivid life by writer-director David O. Russell and star muse Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, a real-life rags-to-riches story that is impeccably crafted but perhaps not as resonant as the filmmakers want it to be. 

This is, after all, a movie about a mop. There’s a lot of sweat and blood and tears behind that mop, but in the end it is what it is. (Magano went on to create a number of other widely successful products, including the “huggable hangers”, but Joy focuses entirely on the genesis, production, and promotion of the Miracle Mop). 

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Mangano in a dynamic performance that effortlessly carries the film; the actress has been nominated for four Academy Awards at the age of 25, but I don’t think she’s ever been better than here (her Best Actress candidacy here represents Joy’s lone Oscar nomination), in her third collaboration with the director following Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle

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At the outset of the movie, Mangano is struggling to take care of her household, which includes a pair of young children, an agoraphobic mother (Virginia Madsen) who is addicted to soap operas and rarely leaves her room, a supportive grandmother (Diane Ladd), and an ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) who lives in the basement. 

Ramírez does a lot with minimal screentime, and his character might be one of the most sympathetic ex-husbands ever to grace the screen; only he and Joy’s best friend Jackie (Dascha Polanco) stick with her through thick and thin.  

But working as a desk clerk for an airline isn’t enough to raise an extended family on, and to complicate matters Joy’s father (Robert De Niro) moves in after he breaks up with his latest girlfriend. There’s also some competition with a half-sister (Elisabeth Röhm) that doesn’t feel as developed as it should be.

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Joy is also struggling with the dreams that she had given up long ago – she married and had children at a young age, and her focus quickly turned to taking care of her family rather than pursuing her creative spirit. 

But when cleaning up spilled wine and a broken glass while aboard the yacht of her father’s new gal, a wealthy widow played by Isabella Rossellini, she has a revelation, and begins to work on the designs for the Miracle Mop. 

The majority of Joy traces the early days with the Mop, from its creation to production to, finally, sales, which proves to be the most difficult and financially risky. It’s all fairly interesting – if never really compelling – in a low-key kind of way that’s easy to go along with. Still, it doesn’t soar, which doesn’t seem to be a fault of the filmmakers or performers; I imagine I’d have the same reaction to a well-produced documentary tracing the same events. 

Most interesting is the sales process: after being turned down by the major retailers – who don’t want to sell the only mop their customers will ever need to buy, if they can sell them a new mop every few years – she turns to a television studio in Amish country during the early days of home shopping. 

There, QVC station manager Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) takes her through the ins and outs of home network retail, and how her product can quickly reach a high volume of customers. But the Miracle Mop doesn’t truly take off until Joy gets behind it herself on air, and becomes something of a celebrity in the process.

There’s a lot to like in Joy, including a dynamite central performance, evocative cinematography by Linus Sandgren (most of the film is set in the autumn and winter, which is beautifully reflected in the film’s moody complexion), and focused storytelling that carefully breaks down the central events. If you are interested in the story of Joy Mangano and the Miracle Mop, you could not have asked for a better production. But judging by the film’s chilly reception, you might be in the minority.

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