Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 26, 2015 3:19 pm 
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A movie about a mop

This time David O. Russell has made a female empowerment movie about a woman inventor. Joy (based on the real-life Miracle Mop creator Joy Mangano) is indomitable, talented, and her high school valedictorian. But as the story begins (with a few childhood flashbacks about a pact with a girl pal to be successes) Joy has been waylaid by family. It's a nutty one, but one that will turn out to be useful. Her ex-husband, Tony, a Venezuelan (the great Édgar Ramírez, rather wasted here: he starred in Carlos!) lives in the basement and then her father Rudy (Robert De Niro) comes to share it. She has two little girls; the grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd) helps with them. Joy gave up college to help with her father's business. Her mother, Carrie (Virginia Madsen), is a comical basket case, living in the "nest" of her bedroom watching soap operas all the time. Then comes Joy's invention: the mop.

We learn about the husband, the mother, the grandmother the sister, the father, the kids. Four generations, the movie blurb boasts. But it's really all about the mop. The mean sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), the father, and the father's new Italian girlfriend Trudy (an excellent Isabella Rossellini), a widow with money, are merely participants in the mop venture.

Ir's a difficult one, but we know it will succeed. After each of the failures along the way, Joy doesn't lose her glow. That is because she is Jennifer Lawrence. She is a star. Her beauty is not her depth but her simplicity. She radiates purity, beauty, drive. And she has been like that ever since her debut in Winter's Bone.

So Joy is a logical vehicle for Jennifer. But something is missing here that Russell captured magically in Silver Linings Playbook: love. That movie brought together two crazy people, played by Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Their first encounters were informed by a rough, warm chemistry. The movie played with the natural assumption that love is crazy. So two crazy people fall in love and then maybe they're not crazy anymore, because it's love. Curiously, Russell has given Bradley Cooper an important role again, in Joy, but without the chemistry. He is Neil Walker, the maestro of the booming new TV marketing channel, QVC. He's charismatic, probably crazy. Joy convinces him to sell her new mop on QVC. There are some big, big bumps between this success and Joy's becoming a wealthy inventor with a bevy of products on the market.

This is only partly a movie about inventions; it's mainly a movie about business. But the business side is fudged a bit. It's compicated. I can tell you more easily about the mop than about how Joy beats the competitors or collaborators who try to ruin her and steal her product. Both stories are the main business of this oddly specialized movie.

As Justin Chang points out in his Variety review of the film, while Russell recently "wholeheartedly" embraced "the art of the con" in American Hustle, here he reverses himself to endorse the simple virtues of honesty and integrity. The implication is that he's trying to come at America from every angle. But note: Joy's QVC sales of her mop, when she gets Neil's permission to be her own on-the-air salesperson, get their jump-start through a kind of con -- a fake call from Joy's best friend Jackie (Dascha Polanco). Mostly this is a story about simple pluck and honesty though. And perhaps it's not surprising -- isn't that always the case? -- that goodness doesn't make as exciting material as dishonesty.

The disappointment is that we've got Jennifer and Bradley together again but there's no romance. (That was true in American Hustle too, but there was a whole lot of intricate and crazy, fascinating stuff happening in that movie.) Years later, when Joy has overcome the obstacles and runs a corporation marketing products that all somehow grew out of the success of her mop -- we get a glimpse of the mansion she lives in now -- she and Neil Walker meet again, in her office. It's a tough, friendly, business meeting. But when it ends you want them at least to hug. Wasn't there any of that Silver Linings chemistry left? And then you realize there's no man in Joy's life -- besides her ex husband and her father, still collaborators. So, did Joy find joy? Or did she just get rich? Is this really a success story?

Joy is a fun, briskly told tale, and I was with it every step of the way, rooting for the mop. But gee, there must be more to life than this. Joy is smoothly edited, and Jennifer Lawrence makes us believe in Joy and in Joy's belief in her miraculous mop. But Russell needed to have more happening than this.

Joy, 124 mins., opened in US cinemas on Christmas Day 2015.

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