Steps to Success…Will you pick up the gun?
If you had a vision that you knew would benefit many and you worked tirelessly and invested everything you owned to realise your dream then at the peak of your success it was taken from you, would you pick up the gun? The film begins with a scene from a soap opera. The character is about to lose her empire. She’s handed a gun and told:
‘When someone sees a weakness in me, I turn that weakness into a strength.’
Joy is a film based on Joy Mangano, inventor of the self-wringing mop. It’s a story about family rivalry; control; making mistakes; learning about business; perseverance and sheer determination to not give up on something you believe in. Joy’s dysfunctional family may drive you crazy but they play a major role in her failures and ultimate success. Her parents divorced when Joy was young. Her father lands on her doorstep after his third wife dumps him. Joy is already housing her reclusive mother, who spends her time watching soap operas and her ex-husband who is living in the basement, which he now has to share with his father-in-law. They all hate each other with the exception of Mimi, Joy’s grandmother who does her best to help Joy keep the peace. Joy is broke and working in a job she hates. It couldn’t get any worse, but it does.
Success Step # 1 Have a vision
As a little girl, Joy loved to make things… special creations. She dreamed about making things for people so they would like her.
‘You need a handsome prince. That’s what you need… a prince,’ stated Peggy, Joy’s half sister to her father’s first marriage.
‘No, I don’t need a prince. This is a special power. I don’t need a prince,’ replies Joy.
Mimi, her grandmother encouraged her to dream and make her beautiful creations. She also said to find a man and have children. Joy found her man and had her children but that’s where the fairytale ended. Within a few years they were divorced. She didn’t need a prince. The special power resided within her.
Reading her daughter a story about cicadas that bury themselves under the ground for 17 years struck a nerve. Then Joy’s childhood friend Jacqui suddenly arrives at her doorstep, wondering where Joy has been hiding. Jacqui provides Joy with the intervention she desperately needs. They reminisce about the plans they used to have for their life as opposed to how their lives turned out. The final catalyst is Joy’s dream of when she was a young inventor.
‘We used to make things, seventeen years ago. Then, that all stopped. What happened?…When you’re hiding, you’re safe because people can’t see you, but the funny thing about hiding, you’re even hidden from yourself.’
The dream finally propels her into action.
Success Step # 2 Find an investor to fund your vision
Trudy, Joy’s father’s new love, invites them for a day sailing on her late husband’s yacht. When red wine is spilt over the expensive teak decking, Joy mops it up. Whilst wringing the mop she cuts her hands on shards of glass. This is the catalyst that prompts her into inventing a revolutionary self-wringing mop. She asks her father, Rudy, to persuade Trudy, to invest in the manufacturing of her idea.
After pitching her idea, Trudy asks Joy to answer her late husband Morris’ ‘four questions of financial worthiness.’ The fourth question which was:
‘You are in a room and there is a gun on the table. The only other person in the room is an adversary in commerce. Only one of you can prevail. Do you pick up the gun, Joy?’
Joy replies that this is a very strange question but Trudy demands an answer.
‘I pick up the gun,’ replies Joy.
The deal is sealed. Trudy invests $15,000 to manufacture the mop.
Success Step # 3 Getting the sales
The local shops won’t stock Joy’s mop. The big companies that bulk buy and distribute to the local shops aren’t interested either. Joy starts demonstrations in the Kmart car park only to have her mops confiscated by the police who threaten prosecution. She is humiliated in front of her daughter and retreats, totally defeated.
As her hopes take a dive, her ex husband offers to introduce her to a friend who is selling through a television network. She gets a lucky break, until it nose dives leaving her in even more debt than before.
Success Step # 4 Learning from your mistakes
The initial $15,000 to start the business turns into $500,000 of debt, although I’m not sure how it got to this figure. Joy’s attempts to run a business becomes a rollercoaster ride. When Joy is riding high her family are supportive and reveling in her success but the minute there is a problem they are quick to abandon ship and take the captain down. The insults, the predictions of tragedy and doom, test the very core of Joy’s faith in herself. Trudy is particularly brutal with Joy. She had inherited her wealth from her late husband and had no idea about running a business either so whenever things went wrong she was quick to blame Joy, rather than her lawyer who had given them the wrong advice.
‘It takes a certain toughness, a certain acumen that you simply don’t have,’ accused Trudy.
This was the kind of fuel that sparked Joy into action. Joy turned her weakness into her strength. Without the pressure from Trudy and the need to prove her wrong, she may have buckled and given up. Throughout, her only loyal allies are her ex-husband, Tony, her friend Jacqui, her beloved Mimi and her daughter.
Success Step # 5 Pick up the gun
Joy was not able to revel in the euphoria of her breakthrough for long. The watchful eyes of her adversaries were quick to begin plotting her demise. Just when she thought she had won the battle, another run of ammunition was loaded with the intent to completely bring her down. What she least suspected was the betrayal of her family who joined sides with her adversary to put their own inventions on the market. Her sister, Peggy was the instigator who was fuelled with jealousy and obsessed with outdoing Joy by creating her own inventions.
The story explores personal and family dynamics and the importance of believing in yourself. It’s ironic that Joy’s ex-husband, Tony, who staunchly believed that a person should follow their passion, never himself succeeded in realising his dream. Perhaps it was because Joy’s stakes were higher and her adversaries pushed her to the point where she had no choice but to ‘pick up the gun,’ or lose everything. This pressure ended up contributing to her success and making Joy a stronger person and an astute business woman.
She learned how to remain true to herself. She didn’t need a prince. She made it through.
Jennifer Lawrence did a stellar job of drawing me into the story, despite it’s flawed script. Director, David O’Russell is credited for the screenplay and Annie Mumolo for the story. Together, you would expect to have a more polished script. The fact that the story is narrated by Joy’s grandmother, who dies halfway through the story is questionable. Having the film begin with a soap opera may have been an attempt to portray Joy’s life resembling a soap opera but I felt it was the main flaw in the script. The soap opera scenes were too disruptive to the flow of the story and came across as ridiculous. The opening soap opera scene would have been enough to get the point across, for the more analytical viewer, of how it fits into the storyline.
Considering Joy is based on a true story we accept the facts of what happened. However, as a director, attention to detail in presenting these are important. There are a few things in the script that don’t make sense, mainly because some things were made up and not true to respect Joy’s privacy. For example:
- Who in their right mind would wring a mop with their bare hands after mopping up shattered glass? Fair enough if there was a shard of glass embedded in the mop when she wrung it out, but it was not portrayed this way, thus making Joy look like an idiot.
- Why is Joy’s character Valedictorian of her school and then portrayed in the film as an incompetent pushover? It’s a contradiction in her character when she takes care of her father’s business bookkeeping and taxes, then plays the role of clueless victim with her own business.
- I also questioned why you wouldn’t demonstrate how your mop works to a sales person after you’ve invested over $200,000 in manufacturing costs?
- Joy is stated as having been given the opportunity to attend a prestigious college but instead she stayed at home to help her parents through their divorce and help her father with his business. Why, when Peggy also claims to have done the same?
- The scene when Joy’s father bursts into the room to announce that Peggy is going to live with him and he will come for Joy every second weekend depicts Joy and Peggy as a young girls. This doesn’t match up to his speech at Joy’s wedding when he states the ‘eighteen miserable years’ he spent with Joy’s mother.
Terry, Joy’s mother has some bizarre scenes with her newfound love, Touissant, the plumber. I found them to be irrelevant interruptions that could have been handled more realistically.
Peggy’s personality appeared too polished for someone who had spent the last ten years running her father’s rundown garage. To distinguish her personality against Joy, who had been Valedictorian in high school, I would have depicted Peggy’s character as someone a little rougher around the edges. The use of slang and a less eloquent manner of speaking perhaps would have made her character more believable as well as a better brief to the make-up and wardrobe department.
I really enjoyed Joy, despite the script being a mess of contradictions. It appeared as if O’Russell was undecided whether to make the film a comedy or a drama. Rudy’s over-the-top antics of smashing things within seconds of walking into Joy’s house was cringe worthy as was the unlikelihood of a woman dropping her husband at his daughter’s house announcing that she didn’t want him anymore, as if he was a naughty child she was minding. This is not comedy; it’s stupidity.
There have been mixed feelings about Joy but it’s on my favourites list because I love true stories where the underdog overcomes obstacles, persists, and ultimately succeeds. My favourite scene was when she faced her Texan adversary in commerce and calmly laid out her royal flush.