Film review: Joy

Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro.
Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro.
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One simple idea can change the world. In 1990, former airline reservations manager Joy Mangano developed a prototype for a self-wringing mop that would allow her to clean the floor without having to touch the mop head.

She invested heavily in her Miracle Mop, risking her home and some of her family’s savings in the belief that other housewives would want her labour-saving device.

Following an appearance on a home shopping TV network, Mangano sold thousands of her invention, laying the foundation stone of a business empire that boasts more than 150 million US dollars in sales every year.

Writer-director David O Russell celebrates this dish rags-to-riches story in Joy, a screwball comedy every bit as deranged as the firebrand heroine and the dysfunctional clan around her.

The filmmaker reunites with actress Jennifer Lawrence, who won an Oscar for his Silver Linings Playbook and came close to a second golden statuette for American Hustle.

She adds sparkle to a film that lurches uncontrollably in pace and tone, and could wring out some of its own wacky excesses.

Narrated by Joy’s benevolent grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), O Russell’s fragmented celebration of womanhood meets the title character following her divorce from her singer husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez).

“I’m going to be the next Tom Jones,” he claims.

They remain good friends and Tony takes up residence in the basement of Joy’s house, which she shares with her children, Mimi and her demanding mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), who spends countless hours spellbound by her favourite TV soap opera.

Out of the blue, Joy’s father Rudy (Robert De Niro) moves in after his girlfriend deposits him unceremoniously on Joy’s doorstep.

It’s a recipe for disaster.

“You’re like a gas leak,” snipes Rudy to his ex-wife. “We don’t see you, we don’t smell you, but you’re slowly killing us all!”

One afternoon, Joy cleans up shattered glasses filled with red wine using a traditional mop, cutting her hands in the process. The idea for the Miracle Mop is born.

Weathering scorn from her embittered sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), Joy takes her prototype to Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), an executive at the QVC home shopping channel, who provides her with a platform to realise her dreams. Joy fitfully lives up to its exultant title, especially early scenes at QVC when the inventor finds her voice and ignores advice from a well-known presenter.

“Joan Rivers wants me in a skirt, but I’m going to do [trousers],” Mangano tells herself.

Lawrence illuminates every frame and is the emotional ballast that prevents O Russell from upending his oddball creation with various flashbacks and narrative detours.

De Niro and Madsen savour quirky supporting roles, which add more spice to a confusing yet strangely watchable stew of ambition and eccentricity.

Joy, Released January 1

Rating: 3/5