The old idiom goes that cleanliness is next to Godliness, and according to the stunning new film from writer/director, David O. Russell, the creation of The Miracle Mop should indeed qualify its inventor, Joy Mangano, for sainthood. A profoundly unusual rattling of the Christ story, Joy is the tale of a woman with a vision surrounded by fools and doubters, who – with the support of a small few – makes her vision a reality, scarring the halls of commerce along the way, and dispensing decency on her hero’s journey, while beset by temptation and delayed by lies. Punching it home one yard further, Joy actually has her vision for The Miracle Mop while staring at broken-wine-glass-inflicted “stigmata” on her hands. Even by the heady, uncompromised standards of David O. Russell – the director of such in-your-face belters as Three Kings, The Fighter, American Hustle, and Silver Linings Playbook – Joy is a big, bold, daring reach, but this eternally brave director grabs the brass ring with both hands, and doesn’t even think of letting go.
Joy Mangano (a fierce, funny, wonderfully controlled turn from the great Jennifer Lawrence) is a working class girl with an over-active brain and a facility for thinking up and making new things. But her big, messy, over-involved family – TV soap-addicted mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen); who is divorced from her blustery, bullish, big-mouthed father, Rudy (Robert De Niro); and her jealous, duplicitous, aggressive half-sister, Peggy (Elizabeth Rohm) – have always prevented Joy from taking a run at the big time. Like a human packhorse, she carries them all on her back, until she’s finally had enough, and risks it all on the creation of The Miracle Mop, a self-wringing wonder, and “the only mop that you’ll ever need.” In Joy’s corner are her sagely but nutty grandma, Mimi (Diane Ladd); her wannabe singer ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez); her childhood best friend, Jackie (Dascha Polanco); and Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), a bigwig at the nascent home shopping cable network that provides a platform for Joy and her Miracle Mop, to the ultimate tune of millions. This, however, is no standard rags-to-riches story – Joy is far more strange, relatable, and inspiring than that.
With its mad and maddening familial unit hotly reminiscent of those in Russell’s The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, Joy shows in no uncertain terms that family ties can potentially slowly strangle the life out of anyone, but the film’s heroine – and make no mistake, Joy is every inch as admirable (though far shabbier) as any hero played by James Stewart, Gregory Peck, or Tom Hanks – is a shining beacon to the power of rising above and, cough, following your dreams. Yes, it might sound corny on paper, but David O. Russell sucks all of the potential sentimentality out of the film, and replaces it with warped humour and earthy honesty. Joy Mangano might be a pillar of virtue, but her marble comes with scuff marks and scratches. The wildly entertaining Joy has the same kind of restless spirit as all of Russell’s previous films, complete with swirling camera work, a time jumping narrative, and jittery editing. And once again, he teams with Jennifer Lawrence (and other essential cast members) to devastating effect, with the performances flighty but grounded, and across-the-board brilliant. Devoid of special effects, but supercharged through the wit of its writing, the richness of its characterisation, and the evangelical profundity of its subtext, this film about one truly amazing woman rates as an eye-popping, breathtaking achievement. All bow before Saint Joy.