When Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) was a little girl, her head was full of dreams about what she would do with her life, she wanted to create things and make the world a better place, and her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) would encourage her to seize any and every opportunity that came her way to make those dreams a reality. However, once she had grown up she found life was none too accommodating for a young, working class mother who had a house packed with her family, including her father Rudy (Robert De Niro) and ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez), all of whom relied on her. In fact, she was beginning to buckle under the strain, and those dreams never seemed so far away as they did now...
This film started life as a simple enough script for a biopic of Italian-American shopping magnate Joy Mangano, but it was felt the material lacked that special something to make it sing, so director David O. Russell was brought on board for a rewrite. This turned into a complete overhaul as he fictionalised the tale to create what was effectively a twenty-first century variation on the sort of women's pictures that routinely appeared in the middle of the previous century, though now had dried up dramatically to the extent that there did not appear to be a market for them anymore. In spite of him casting Jennifer Lawrence when he took the helm, the closest thing to a Lana Turner, Bette Davis or Joan Crawford Hollywood had at the time, it seemed that market was indeed gone.
The pity of it was that after the snooty reviews from professionals and public alike that Joy simply rearranged some very clichéd furniture of the sort that movies had supposed to have outgrown, when many viewers did give it a chance, some of them reluctantly thanks to the reputation this had received, they discovered an impeccably performed, very pleasant surprise. This was not an unironic take on the American Dream, though that's what it was superficially, it was more a demonstration of just how difficult that state of success was to attain when there were so many factors against you, particularly if you were a woman. In Lawrence, we had someone who embodied the can-do attitude that her character had to channel if she was to overcome all sorts of setbacks and people telling her, "You can’t do that!"
That was because she could do that, she just had to believe in herself, follow her ambition... already this is sounding very corny indeed, isn’t it? But the manner in which it played out was something different, indicating it's often a miracle if an individual rises from nowhere to make anything of themselves at all, as seen from Joy's beginnings that weigh her down so much that on first sight you may be forgiven for thinking this was a withering look at the underclass of the United States. Joy may have a job, but she is using it to support her relatives who aside from her little son and daughter are deadbeats to a man and woman, and while there is amusement to be had from their can-don't attitude, there was a serious point to be made about the kind of society that keeps its citizens down by giving them unrealistic goals.
Tony, for example, fails to hold down a job because he has convinced himself that he will be a great singer, the next Tom Jones, which we can see is highly unlikely but he cannot. Rudy believes in the institution of marriage, unless he is actually married when it becomes something very difficult to sustain, and Joy's mother Terry (Virginia Madsen) is so defeated by life that she spends her days in bed watching soap operas she is more invested in that what's going on around her in reality. So what makes them different from Joy, whose dream is to manufacture and sell a self-wringing mop? Maybe she wanted it more, maybe the stars were in alignment, but mostly it's because she refuses to be beaten down simply because that just isn't fair, and she is not going to accept that no matter how unfair the world is; essentially she bends the rules in her favour, as if it were her superpower. Not to say there would be no heartache along the journey, but if there was a moral it was an old one: if you want something done right, do it yourself, so when Bradley Cooper in an admirably self-confident performance waves his magic wand and gets Joy on his shopping channel, she finds people want a bit of her ingenuity. Maybe old-fashioned, but there was wisdom in that. Music by David Campbell and West Dylan Thordson.