From Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence has played some of the strongest and most admirable women modern cinema has had to offer. Even when she’s playing a character that’s not a particularly good role model, such as Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook or Rosalyn in American Hustle, Lawrence brings great humanity to every one of her roles. Joy Mangano is yet another character Lawrence embodies with unparalleled charm, humor, and honesty. Her performance is just one of the many reasons why Joy is such a delightful movie.
Director David O. Russell bases his latest film on the real life of Joy Mangano, a creative woman with loads of potential. Yet, her hopes seem to have squandered away over the years. This isn’t entirely surprising since everyone else in Joy’s family is an underachiever. Her father (Robert De Niro) is a loudmouth who mooches off others, her mother (Virginia Madsen) is a shut-in who spends all day watching soap operas, and her ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) is a washed-up singer who lives in her basement. The only one who encourages Joy to be something more than an airline employee is her grandmother (Diane Ladd). Thus, Joy is inspired to invent the Miracle Mop.
Joy is set somewhere around the early nineties, but much like John Crowley’s Brooklyn, the film is even more relevant to today’s youth. Now more than ever, people are afraid to take a risk on a dream or original idea. Most of us would rather play it safe and go through the motions of a more traditional life. Others are so afraid of taking a chance that they just eternally stay in their safe zone like Joy’s mother. As Joy enters the business world, she discovers a new hurdle around every corner. Although tempted to throw in the towel on multiple occasions, she refuses to go down without giving it her all.
This may seem like a straightforward working girl story. Much like its title character, though, Joy is one of a kind. It avoids many of the storytelling conventions one would expect. Even when Joy meets Bradley Cooper as the charming Home Shopping Network executive, the narrative doesn’t succumb to a Hollywood romance. There’s a refreshing truthfulness to David O. Russell’s screenplay and our leading lady’s resilient performance. While Russell’s previous two films starring Lawrence may be slightly stronger, this is still another outstanding collaboration between the director and star.
In the spirit of Russell’s other movies, Joy is especially genuine in its representation of family. Joy has one of those dysfunctional families that don’t work together while somehow simultaneously working together. The dynamic Joy shares with her ex-husband in particular rings true to many broken homes. In a way, Joy’s family and her journey to success is a perfect metaphor for life. It’s not always pretty and is full of tribulations. Once you’ve worked through the roughest parts, however, you can find that it’s quite joyous.