David O’Russell’s last three films have all been fantastic (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) and I’m a big Jennifer Lawrence fan but I went into this film with low expectations due to the mixed reviews I’d read. But I have to tell you, I really got a kick out of the film. A movie doesn’t have to be great to be enjoyable. This movie isn’t great, it’s uneven, a little too long and loses plot threads here and there but it is really enjoyable. It has a warm spirit. The cast, some of whom have become part of O’Russell’s stable, are all very good, especially Lawrence, who once again shows you that she’s a star.
The film is based on the story of Joy Mangano who invented the Miracle Mop and went on to build a successful company. The film follows her from a young girl who dreamed of inventing things but gets sidetracked by marriage and children and being caretaker to her dysfunctional family. Her grandmother (Diane Ladd) believes in Joy and encourages her while her mother (Virginia Madsen) spends her days in bed watching soap operas. Her father is a ne’er do well who is dropped off at Joy’s doorstep at the start of the film by his current wife who declares she’s ‘bringing him back’ as if her were a defective vacuum cleaner. Joy sets up her father in the basement that he must share with her ex-husband Tony, (Edgar Ramirez). They do not get a long one bit but Joy remedies the situation by separating the basement with a roll of toilet paper. Joy also has a jealous step sister (Elizabeth Rohm) who helps her father run his auto body workshop and who tries to undermine her every chance she gets.
While on the sailing boat of her father’s rich new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), Joy ends up mopping a spill and cutting her hands while wringing the mop and this is the impetus for her big invention – The Miracle Mop. She designs it in her daughters’ room using her crayons and then gets Trudy to invest the money to get the mops made with the intention of selling it themselves. But this proves impossible until Tony puts Joy in touch with an ex co-worker of his and Joy then meets Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) who runs a new cable station called QVC. The rest is history except for the obstacles Joy must hurdle before finally finding lasting success such as shady partners and undercutting relatives which make up the last part of the film.
David O’Russell wrote the script loosely based on Mangano’s life but a lot of the details are fictional. While Lawrence is too young for the part it doesn’t matter because she is so good and believable that you go with it. DeNiro does his “comedic DeNiro” bit and it works. Ramirez gets a nice change of pace role from his usual action oriented films and turns in a very sweet and funny performance.
The film shoots for the fences, it’s ambitious and I always like that, at some points it has a Wes Anderson feel and others a touch of Capra. O’Russell’s directing style is loose and improvisational in his process and sometimes the film veers off the road before getting back on track. Nevertheless, I found myself invested in the story and Lawrence and rooting for her to succeed. I think that Lawrence and O’Russell should take a break from each other, though. I see that she will be working with Darren Aronofsky on his new film and I think that should be interesting.