Home » Years » 2015 » Joy ••••

Joy ••••

JoyfilmposterStarring: Jennifer LawrenceRobert De NiroBradley Cooper
Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: David O. RussellAnnie Mumolo
Comedy/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2015


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, I get the feeling that Joy will be a joy to review.

I enJoyed myself at this movie. Let’s recap:

We meet a woman in her late twenties named Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence). Joy is a divorced single mom who somehow finds herself taking care of everyone:  her kids, her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), her neurotic mom who lives upstairs (Virginia Madsen), and her ex-husband Tony (Édgar Ramírez) who lives in the basement. Then her father Rudy (Robert De Niro) moves in with her and begins sharing the basement with her ex. Joy is an aspiring inventor but all her time is spent working for an airline and taking care of her many dysfunctional family members.

Rudy starts dating a widow named Trudy who is well-to-do. Trudy invites Rudy and his family (including Joy and her overachieving sister Peggy) for a trip on her boat. When Joy drops her wine glass it shatters and she feels compelled to clean it up. Doing so, she gets her hands chapped and cut wringing out the mop. When she gets home she dreams up an idea for a mop you never have to touch with your hands and can be thrown in the washing machine. She prototypes the device and pitches it to Rudy and Trudy. They reluctantly agree to invest in her invention and Joy begins an odyssey that will determine her future and the future of her family.

Greg, Joy is yet another movie featuring a strong female hero. But our hero Joy doesn’t start out that way. At the beginning of the film, Joy is mentally beaten down by her family, who expect much from her but think little of her. She has sacrificed so much for her parents, her ex-husband, and her children, that she has lost herself in the process. Joy is too kind and selfless for her own good.

The good news is that deep inside, Joy understands her own worth and does not give up on her dream to become an inventor. Rather than quit and allow others to define who she is, Joy summons the courage to resurrect her dream to invent things and to become an entrepreneur. Doing so requires great strength and courage from Joy, who has acquired these qualities from her grandmother and mentor Mimi. Joy’s self-confidence and sense of worth lay dormant for a while but eventually these qualities are allowed to blossom.

What’s wonderful about this film is that we are shown that when the mentor dies, the student can still thrive. In short, the mentoring does not stop. Joy has internalized her grandmother’s advice. This film drives home the life-changing importance of loving support and wisdom passed down to children from elderly family members.

Joy was an enchanting and heartwarming story about persistence and perseverance. Joy starts out as someone lost in her own family. Everyone depends on her, she gives unselfishly to those she loves, and they respond by holding up a mirror to her that only reflects her failures. She reemerges when she is so beaten down that the only thing that remains is a childhood memory of things she created and left in a shoebox. That spirit of creativity is the kindling that turn into a fire that drives Joy to put everything she has into a final push to create something that will define her.

Joy is a wonderful example of the hero’s journey. She starts out submerged and filled with a deep hurt inflicted by the separation of her parents during her childhood. When she realizes that her life won’t change unless she makes a change, she passes into the special world of being an inventor. She has to grow as a person and resolve her inner feeling of a lack confidence.

There’s a scene that I love in Joy that reminds me of what we often see in these heroic transformations. Joy is at her lowest point. She’s been cheated by her suppliers, beaten down by her family, and even sabotaged by her sister. She then changes her clothes. She dons the attire of a warrior – trading in her peasant blouse and cotton pants for black leather and slacks. She even bobs her hair. She is ready for battle and she makes a final transition into the world of tough negotiators. The change of garb is a clear marker that the hero is going into battle.

Greg, you’ve made a nice observation about the transformed physical appearance symbolizing, and signifying, the inner heroic transformation. I recently watched the movie Brooklyn in which the female hero’s clothing, hair, makeup, and gait all serve as important indicators of transformative change. It’s the equivalent of Clark Kent finding the nearest phone booth to switch into his Superman costume.

Another nice element to the film Joy is the effective use of the supporting cast in making Joy’s heroic transformation possible. Several of the characters are seemingly supportive of Joy’s dream. Witness the initial backing of Rudy, Trudy, and QVC founder Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper). When things don’t go swimmingly right away, all of these folks are quick to remove their support and even belittle Joy in a way that makes us want to strangle them. I was relieved to see that Neil’s character has enough depth and complexity to give Joy a second chance, which of course results in the achievement of her dream. All these secondary characters are used to great effect in providing our hero with obstacles and opportunities for resilience.

Scott, we’ve mined the Moxney’s paradigm more than once in these reviews. This is the mythical structure that models relationships after the family. And in Joy’s case, it is a literal mapping. She is dealing with her estranged parents, her estranged husband, her estranged sister, and her mentor grandmother Mimi. However, here, all the estranged characters represent a dysfunctional family and so the Moxney’s structure fails. It’s Joy who is at the top of the hierarchy and pulls the rest of her family up as they attempt to drag her down.

We also see an interesting villain structure here. Her older sister consistently attempts to belittle and sabotage Joy’s successes. As if that weren’t enough, her suppliers believe she’s an ignorant and naive woman and work to steal her ideas. And behind them is their Texan dealmaker – the puppetmaster (or as we like to call him, the Mastermind).

I’d also like to mention Joy’s adorable children. Frankly, they don’t have a big role here. They often serve as a reminder of Joy’s own childhood. This is especially true when Joy is at her lowest point and yells at her daughter not to dream too big – just as she was taught when she was a child. However, she is buoyed more than once by her grandmother Mimi who always had confidence in her.

Joy is a wonderful and inspiring story about a remarkable woman who puts her remarkableness on hold while she sacrifices for many other members of her family. When her entrepreneurial dream is eventually realized we are moved by her successes and frustrated by her setbacks. Joy’s perseverance is finally rewarded but not without significant delays and hardship. This film is a terrific portrayal of a modern woman’s hero’s journey and it easily earns 4 Reels out of 5.

Our hero Joy has all of the characteristics of the Great Eight traits of heroes. She is smart, strong, charismatic, kind, caring, inspiring, resilient, and reliable. Her journey is tortured yet profoundly satisfying in the end. I was struck by the sea of humanity standing in the way of her dreams as well as by the people who came through for her to help her achieve her goals. Joy is transformed from a human doormat into a soaring business force to be reckoned with. I give her complex character and breakthrough journey a score of 5 Heroes out of 5.

The supporting characters represent a wonderful blend of good, bad, and quirky individuals. At times we want to wring their necks and at other moments we cheer them on. The grandmother Mimi plays a pivotal role in assisting Joy with her transformation, as does her ex-husband Tony. Joy’s father and especially her sister prove to be formidable villains to overcome, but Joy manages to outmaneuver them. The entire cast shines in Joy and I’m happy to award them all 5 rating points out of 5.

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Joy is the semi-biographical story of a woman’s journey from a child of great potential, to an underachieving adult, to an accomplished millionaire. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a wonderful performance that is Oscar-worthy. She shows us just how loyal and devoted she is to her family – so much so that she loses herself. Then she shows us that Joy can recover her inner child only to have her hopes dashed again and again. This is a movie with as much heart as It’s a Wonderful Life. I could see it again and again. The only problem I had with this story is that it is narrated by grandma Mimi and … she’s dead, Jim. I give Joy 4 out of 5 Reels.

As we’ve mentioned this is a complete hero’s journey. Joy crosses the threshold from her ordinary world of service to everyone around her, into the world of entrepreneurship. She’s fully committed to this journey. She falls to her deepest depths only to regroup and emerge as a warrior. Finally, in the epilog, we learn that she goes on to be a mentor to other women. I give Joy 5 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting cast is a very mixed bag of nuts. There are no families more dysfunctional in Hollywood films than Joy’s. We’ve already talked about the obstacles her father, mother, and sister provide. Not to mention the many men who take her for a fool. But we also saw some characters we haven’t talked about much this year. Like the “best friend” – person who is not a family member but gives support and solace. And I don’t even know what archetype the plumber in this story is. (He’s from Jamaica and Joy’s reclusive mother begins an inexplicable romance with him). This group definitely left me feeling frustrated and I was just watching. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be Joy! I give them all 5 out of 5 Cast points.

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