In 2015 we already saw the live action remake of Disney’s Cinderella, where the tale of a young woman who found herself under the thumbs of her cruel step mother and step sisters kept her hidden away and suffering unable to escape. As I watch on with what I’d like to look at as David O. Russell’s imagined version that actually follows the real life accomplishments of the real Joy Mangano who invented the Wonder Mop.
It’s clear from the narration to the framing that Russell sees this story no different than any other fairy tale that we were treated to in bed being read to by our parents and grandparents. We open with the narration of Mimi, Joy’s grandmother, who tells Joy eventually that everything is going to be great. Cut to adulthood where Joy gave up higher education in order to stay home and take care of her divorced parents, help keep her father’s business going, ended up having two children and is herself divorced. She sits in a position that many never imagine for themselves when they are dreaming of their future and at the same time never has enough time to consider self pity, or decry the bad turns she took. All she can do is look to the next broken pipe under the ground and get it fixed before the next problem that needs solving arises. While we don’t look at any of these things keeping Joy in her current position as being intently malicious, I can’t help but look at it all and see the same process that Cinderella found herself in hidden away from the world for the sake of her adopted family.
Russell uses all of his newfound style to make the film move in such a way that you don’t quite ever feel stuck with Joy. We sit in our seats being serenaded by Nat King Cole and funked by the Bee Gees and want to get up and dance as if Joy is almost happy. This, I feel, is one of the main troubles of this film. While the story and general concept of the film are simply put great elements that any film would love to have as a starting point, Russell seems to suffocate it with his style of over-soundtracking and constantly making every scene into this massive moment that will blow us away rather than making it small, as most of this movie really is. It’s as if after the success of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle Russell was given enough positive feedback that he wasn’t supposed to change anything about how he presented any stories no matter how much the story needed that sort of presentation or not. I view this movie in the same way that I Heart Huckabees was framed, and I think that’s the type of movie this should have been.
Regardless though, the film sits there wanting us to love it so much. As we watch Joy fight her way out of her position of desperation and denied depression into one of power over all the people who quietly keep her stuck we want to cheer and start a riot as to how great it all is. However, we just feel deflated at the end of it all wondering why it didn’t affect us as much. There’s a scene towards the end of the film that takes place in a hotel room and something about it struck me. We sit there as Joy confronts one of her many external forces that is keeping her from succeeding and she enforces her own power that we always knew was inside her, but the film at that point has already given us Walker’s dancing with the phones, Rudy’s constant emasculation of Tony, and even Trudy’s four questions of business and at that point the film felt limp. This is all with me sort of loving the look of the film where it almost felt like an overproduced stage-play.
Joy feels like Hollywood’s growing pains. It’s a film that Hollywood has been begged and pleaded to make, a film about a strong women being shown as the woman who in daily life succeeds and doesn’t take but creates. However, it felt not so much weird, but weirdly handled. I can’t quite put my thumb down on it as to exactly what the point was where the film stopped working for me, but it did and at the same time I can’t wait to watch it again to find out what that point is. Is that more or less what a movie wants to do to it’s audience?