QVC, an acronym for Quality, Value and Convenience and one of the world’s first and most successful television shopping channels, is for many people the home of vacuous chat, tinsel and tat made famous by the sadly deceased and waspish Joan Rivers who could sell plastic surgery to The Invisible Man. But not for Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), a real-life American inventor, businesswoman and entrepreneur who was saved from the jaws of personal and financial ruin after digging in her stiletto heels over a patent dispute and convincing the much sought after network to sell her inaugural invention: the self-wringing Miracle Mop.
From the moment the military marching drums and trumpet blasts of the 20th Century Fox fanfare is comically interrupted by a plinky-plonky xylophone and whimsical violin, we know we are in the safe hands of the BAFTA award-winning and three-time Oscar-nominated writer, director and co-producer David O. Russell who rescues Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper from the disappointment of their last co-appearance in the dirge that was Serena and replicates, and in my opinion eclipses, their former successes in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, which he also wrote and directed.
As narrated by Joy’s benevolent grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), who encourages her granddaughter to buckle down at school and reach for the stars to overcome the twin obstacles of financial hardship and domestic instability caused by her warring parents’ acrimonious divorce – her “Captain Jack the Jackass” father Rudy (Robert De Niro) comically describes his couch potato ex-wife Terri (Virginia Madsen) as a “gas leak” on account of the fact “we don’t see you, we don’t hear you, but you’re killing us all” – we first meet our protagonist as a confident young girl full of hope and ambition.
Making a model village out of nothing but white paper and scissors, she builds her “very own house where I will live to make many wonderful creations.” “You’ll need a handsome prince,” chips in the maternal Mimi. Well-meaning advice which is immediately shot down in flames by the feminist-in-the-making Joy. “No, I don’t need a prince. This is a special power.” Fast forward 17 years and her technicolour dreams have been replaced by the black and white reality of working as an airport check-in girl. A situation worsened by the arrival of her twice-divorced father whom she allows to share the basement of her mortgaged-up-to-her-eyeballs home with her ex-husband Anthony (Édgar Ramírez as a Venezuelan Tom Jones).
“What’s happened to us?” asks Joy to her childhood best friend Jackie (Dascha Polanco). “All the things we used to dream about, I feel like they’re getting further and further away.” But all that changes when her father’s new girlfriend Trudy (a wealthy Italian widow played by Isabella Rossellini) invites the Mangano clan aboard her ex-husband’s yacht. On one condition: no red wine, as it might stain the teak wood decking. By a fortuitous quirk of fate, Trudy takes a shine to Joy’s Venezuelan ex-husband who comes armed with a case of the forbidden red wine, the tide unexpectedly swells, glasses crash to the floor and after cutting her hands cleaning up the mess Joy experiences a Eureka moment when she hits upon an idea for a self-wringing mop with a detachable head.
The rest, as they say, is history. Or rather, her story. And within a matter of weeks, Joy receives an order from a top executive at QVC Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) for 50,000 units of the Miracle Mop. But disaster follows disaster: the infomercial bombs, the supplier puts his prices up, her patent is stolen and she is forced to take out a second mortgage just to break even. Before long, she is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy as the vultures of Big Business are joined by the greedy claws of her feuding family who, spearheaded by her jealous half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm), want to ride on the coattails of her fleeting success to promote their profiles and claim their pound of flesh.
Is Joy swept away by the tidal wave of defeat? Or does she rediscover her nerve and mop up the spoils? Judging by the fact that her face and products are broadcast live into the homes of millions of Americans on a daily basis, it’s no spoiler to say that she does what every good budgie does and that is: succeeds. As does director, writer and co-producer David O. Russell whose script sparkles with wit and humanity and who manages to achieve what in recent years so many directors have failed to do and that is to get Robert De Niro to ditch his curmudgeonly and so-called comedic on-screen persona as caricatured in duds such as Last Vegas and The Grudge Match in favour of actually playing the character and the scene which, I am glad to say, he does terrifically.
Jennifer Lawrence, whose demeanour in films such as The Hunger Games and the aforementioned dirge Serena is often cold and alienating, brings the natural warmth and vulnerability she so freely displays in interviews to the fore and shines in the central role of Joy. And the score by West Dylan Thordson and David Campbell, like the film itself, is a blast. Counterbalancing the domestic squabbles and financial setbacks with a string of jaunty jazz tunes and feel-good classics which are perfectly pitched, up the pace and infuse Joy’s spiralling descent with an air of cheeky optimism. Best epitomised by their choice of track to underscore a family barney aboard Trudi’s prized teak yacht: The Good Life.
by Peter Callaghan
Director: David O. Russell
Writer: David O. Russell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper,
Diane Ladd, Édgar Ramírez, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Isabella Rossellini,
Elisabeth Röhm, Dascha Polanco, Melissa Rivers, Virginia Madsen
Release: 25 Dec 2015 Rating: 12A Running Time: 124 mins