(M) Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro

Fans of the Home Shopping Network may be familiar with Joy Mangano, who came to fame while selling her inventions on the QVC network in the ’90s. For those unaware of the rags-to-riches story of this inventor and spruiker of household appliances, Joy is an unique biographical journey told by director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook). This raw retelling of Joy’s rise to fame shows the challenges of the life of an entrepreneur and the multitude of trials that occurred in the process of getting her products to market. This retelling of her family and business life involves the twists of managing this new family business and the bizarre challenges that occur in the lives of industry founders.

From Three Kings to American Hustle, David O. Russell has proven throughout his directorial career to have a knack for cutting-edge cinematic experiences and the delivery of original dialogue. He has been able to create unique films with fascinating characters within fictional universes that are consistent with his unique style of filmmaking. In Joy, Russell’s characters live in the recreated world of the ’90s and he does stay true to the look and feel of the era, which allows us to be immersed in a time before mobile phones and the internet. But this real-world experience exposes one of the key challenges for Russell. Primarily, that his style does not complement Joy’s biographical experience. On the surface, Joy Mangano’s life provides a multitude of characters and situations that should play beautifully into the hands of a David O. Russell production, but the narrative seems to weigh down his creative flow. The characters come off as unbelievably exaggerated which makes it difficult to sympathise with the young inventor.

Another difficulty is that the story is centred on the sale of mops. Mangano is a strong female business leader and her attempts to get her innovative cleaning product to the marketplace provides both comedic and heart-wrenching moments, but ultimately Joy is about selling a cleaning device. There are family squabbles, dirty deals and threats of violence that push the script along, but the characters and story fail to lift this film out of the ‘ordinary but quirky’ biography category.

As Mangano, the central character in this mopping drama, Jennifer Lawrence continues to prove that she can carry a major cinematic outing. Her portrayal of the Mangano matriarch is winsome. Included in the cast are Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper who add familiar elements from previous Russell films that complement Lawrence’s performance. Other welcomed inclusions are Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd, and Virginia Madsen. Yet, even with the talent pool in front and behind the camera, the overall story lacks the intrigue needed for a full two hours.

In the tradition of rags-to-riches stories, there is an expectation for the depiction of hardship in the lives that people experience in these ventures. Joy provides plenty of examples of trials that show it does take unique individuals to succeed in the world of business. This film should be a celebratory reflection on all that Ms. Mangano was able to achieve through her grit and determination, but Russell’s style delivers a dark interpretation to this tale which leads to feelings of depression instead of celebration.

Joy contains the elements for a quality production, but they fail to come together in the end.


Leaving the cinema…

Having not realised beforehand that Joy was based on a true story, it took some time to get into the narrative. Then with David O.Russell’s direction, it became a less-than-compelling experience.


What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

Our families bring out the best and worst in our lives. Parents, siblings and all of the various layers know more about our history than anybody else. They can remind us of our successes and our failures throughout our lives. Interestingly, the God of the Bible had the best of intentions for families from the beginning of time. The goal was to be a cohesive unit that works together and celebrates the various gifts that each has been given. Even in this fallen existence, family members should strive to encourage one another. Weeping with those who are weeping, celebrating when they are celebrating and speaking the truth into their lives with grace, love  and mercy.

  1. What is sacrificial love? (John 15:13, Ephesians 5:25)
  2. Is life mysterious? (Colossians 2:1-3, Matthew 13:11-13)
  3. Does God care about my dreams? (Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 16:3)



Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


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