Joy Mangano invented the Miracle Mop. That’s the self-squeezing mop you can clean completely by removing the head and tossing it into the washing machine.
She is not the sort of American one expects to see eccentric comedy-dramas about – especially not movies starring the most beautiful and beloved actress in current Hollywood in the lead role, surrounded by a supporting cast that lesser stars and directors would die for.
And all of that helps me to find David O. Russell’s “Joy” so intrinsically delightful. The movie stars Jennifer Lawrence, certifiable Hollywood “It Girl” of the 21st century. It features two movie kingpins in different demographic groups who combine to be part of Russell’s identifiable movie “stock company” – Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper.
Lawrence plays Joy, De Niro plays Joy’s father, long-divorced and estranged from Joy’s mother, who is played by Virginia Madsen as a bed-clinging TV soap addict who wears the world’s ugliest glasses. Cooper plays the kingpin of the QVC network and Joy’s mentor in the world of instant telemarketing. Cooper doesn’t appear until the middle of the movie but when he does, he suddenly infuses the film with all the swash and buckle and implicit romance that you realize the movie has needed all along.
Russell, bless him, makes messy movies about messy families who put the “dys” in dysfunctional.
So it’s like this with our heroine, Joy: Dad is suddenly returned to his first family by his second wife, who is tired of him. You’d think she were returning a pet beagle who couldn’t stop chewing everyone’s slippers.
What that means, though, is that Dad is going to have to room in the basement with Joy’s ex-husband, the aspirant singer who keeps hanging around. And in the same overextended family with his ex-wife upstairs glued to her soaps, which star Susan Lucci at her most gleefully flagrant worst.
Joy’s daughter is in the house, too. And her grandmother, who narrates the film (lovely to see Diane Ladd again) and provides what wisdom there is in a family that is wisdom-resistant.
Joy, her grandmother tells us, has always been a can-do kind of girl. “I don’t need a prince,” she says as a little girl. She does need her friend Jackie, though.
You wouldn’t want Joy’s proposition tested too stoutly.
She works for Eastern Airlines, but mostly she keeps her absurdly dysfunctional and incapable family from collapsing completely into chaos. It’s not easy.
But it fits well into an idea David O. Russell has been getting across to us in almost every film – especially “The Fighter” before this. And that idea is that no matter how gifted you may be in the world, you have no idea how many ways your family can unwittingly cook up to undermine your success.
Russell is very droll about the American family as an institution. (His first film, aptly, was called “Flirting With Disaster.” That’s the one where Mary Tyler Moore oh-so-briefly went topless.)
So, as Russell tells this tale, Joy invents the Miracle Mop. After watching Joy keep everyone together, the movie suddenly adjourns to the expensive yacht of Dad’s new girlfriend, the wealthy widow, played by Isabella Rossellini. Whatever you do, says the girlfriend, don’t get red wine on the deck. It stains. Sure enough, a glass breaks, threatening to stain the wood. Joy cleans it up and cuts her hand in the process on broken glass. Why don’t these things squeeze themselves, she wonders about the mop. Why indeed?
The movie is off to the races. Or rather it’s off to become an Entrepreneurial Romance which is, you must admit, not a film genre you expected to be harboring so much high-class acting talent in 2015.
So we watch for the seriocomic struggles of our beautiful, lovable heroine to make a go of the mop business. And then, Cooper shows up as the head of QVC and instantly understands the potential of both Joy and her invention.
So he puts them both on the air.
And of course, the struggles continue – many with Joy’s family, whose way of supporting her is to undercut her at every turn (as families can often be expected to do).
This is, by turns, affecting, funny, off-the-wall and downright irresistible.
It’s a tale of Entrepeneurialism In Three Tragic Acts Leavened by Funny Triumph and Family Craziness and Annoyance and Cooper as savior.
It’s both involving and enjoyable in its nuttiness. And, just as everyone expects, the joy in “Joy” is getting to watch Lawrence for two hours in the newest concoction of Russell, a man who knows how loving families can both take and give at the same time.
May Russell and his unofficial stock company keep on working together as long as they can stand each other’s company.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini
Director: David O. Russell
Running time: 124 minutes.
Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language.
The Lowdown: Comedy-drama about the inventor of the Miracle Mop, her chaotic family and her burgeoning stardom on the QVC network.