Directed by David O. Russell
Writers: David O. Russell and Annie Mumolo
Jennifer Lawrence as Joy
Robert de Niro as Rudy, Joy’s father
Bradley Cooper as Neil Walker, QVC entrepreneur
Edgar Ramirez as Tony, Joy’s ex-husband, a singer
Diane Ladd as Mimi, Joy’s mom
Virginia Madsen as Terry, Joy’s grandmother
Isabella Rossini as Trudy, Rudy’s rich widow girlfriend
Dascha Polanko as Jackie, Joy’s best friend
American Hustle 2? David O Russel writes and directs Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper again. There are unprepossessing plots but few less likely to excite a producer than the story of a woman who invented a better mop and sold it on he QVC shopping channel. QVC? You know the one. When you turn on your TV it asks if it can update the channel list, an act which ends up giving you more shopping channel clones you will never watch. Trust me, if you have enough grey cells left to switch on a computer and read this, you are not watching shopping channels. The story is allegedly true, which is terrifying. It’s based on Joy Mangano, who invented the Miracle Mop. Do 25,000 people watch QVC where an over-made up Barbie-woman in high heels is flogging the naffest cheap necklace ever seen, then buy it instantly on the phone. If so, the world has no hope.
Is the story telling us about the American Dream or lampooning it? I think it needed to jump on one side of the fence or other. At the root, this is the old American myth: The inventor in Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Horatio Alger, Andrew Carnegie, Dale Carnegie of How To Win Friends and Influence People . That is, if you invent a better shoe brush, door handle or nasal hair clipper you can patent it and the world will beat a path to your door, and you will become a multi-millionaire. OK, let’s add Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and switch to trillionaire. The revolutionary gadget was something of a 1950s to 1980s thing. Every department store used to have someone trying to flog boiled egg slicers, or cucumber trimmers, or other apparently labour-saving devices. Most people ended up with a drawer full of such items quietly rusting away.
It would be nice to pretend we British weren’t such suckers, but then you have the popularity of The Apprentice TV series in Britain, where hopefuls pitch business ideas and inventions to Alan Sugar (being most careful to remember to address him as Lord Sugar.) Sugar’s Amstrad company was famed for producing car radios and cassette players so bad that in the days when car radio theft was common we used to say “Protect yourself against theft: Fit an Amstrad, no one will steal it.” They went on to produce a dire PC, then satellite TV tuners. We had two. They blew fuses at regular intervals, but the fuse was fitted behind the control panel so that the whole thing had to be dismantled to change it. Better makes had them accessible from the outside. Anyway, decades of producing such shite set him up as judge and jury over young entrepeneurs and inventors. Just as Bradley Cooper’s QVC boss is in this film.
Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) and Rudy, her dad (Robert de Niro)
This is a story about a young woman, Joy, played by Jennifer Lawrence who invents a better mop. The reason it holds you is that Jennifer Lawrence must be a cert for another Oscar nomination. She holds together the household with two daughters, a soap opera addicted Mom, a grandmother who narrates, her ex-husband still living in her basement, and her dad who turns up to live there after being ejected by his girlfriend. Dad (Rober De Niro) runs Rudy’s Garage. Her stepsister Peggy is Dad’s favourite. Dad is into internet dating and hooks up with a rich Italian widow, played by Isabella Rossellini. Joy loses her job as a check-in clerk at Eastern Airlines at the start. She was class valedictorian, but gave up her career when her parents divorced.
Trudy (Isabella Rosselini) has to lend Joy the money
Joy is exhausted, exploited, food-spattered, put-upon from all angles. She’s in tight close up much of the time. She could do something about all those moles, but she is even more gorgeous tired and food-stained than she is done up to the nines, and I think the moles were applied to make her look “real”. The film’s great device is the soap opera that her Mom watches incessantly. It starts before the credits, woodenly acted in black and white (when Joy is a little girl) then continues two decades later dressed in finery that would shame Dynasty with the same ageing cast. Joy dreams herself into the soap. Inexplicably, and foolishly I think, they abandon the soap reference two thirds of the way through.
Joy – about to go on QVC for the first time
Bradley Cooper, as the QVC boss who gives Joy a chance
After many trials and tribulations Joy gets as far as the QVC studio and watches plastic woman in short skirts, shiny tights, high heels, big hair and layers of slap selling crap. She insists on doing her own thing and refusing the weird garb in favour of being herself in black pants and plain white blouse. It works. One of the cop-outs of the film, or maybe it’s a deliberate point, is that at the end, when we flash-forward to her future as wealthy inventor, she goes totally plastic – she has the cream skirt suit with shiny gold buttons, gold earrings, short coiffeur and shiny tights. I found that profoundly disappointing, a total sell-out, but maybe I was meant to wince at this image of well-groomed success for an American woman. Also the scene where she kindly encourages the African-American lady from Memphis (with husband holding small baby) who has invented a Velcro clothes fluff remover is mawkish to the point of puking.
I could knock a lot. The women are full blonde or full black hair, nothing in the middle. Robert de Niro really, really cannot go on being the irascible father making an inappropriate wedding speech. He does it sublimely, but it’s like someone said at a script meeting, “I know! Her dad is just like Robert de Niro in his last ten films!” At the beginning, the young Joy is making a set-up with paper fences and paper wolves and houses. When her parents divorce, the precious shoe box with this stuff is trampled on the floor. At the end, she finds the box! OK, I’m sure some will say Citizen Kane homage, but I thought ‘Oh, no! Not yet another Rosebud moment!’ Bradley Cooper’s QVC executive’s final line when meeting the rich future Joy is I’m proud of you. I was trying to think of a definition for objectionably patronizing. Now I’ve got it.
Joy cuts her hair and goes to Texas
Joy has to confront the crooked California factory owners making her mops. She has to go on to confront their fraud of a boss in Texas. Her new short hair cut looks fabulous, but I still don’t think that Texan Good Ol’ Boy in bootlace tie and Stetson would have rolled over and surrendered that easily.
There are many good bits. Many that will only emerge on second viewing. My companion swears that the rich Italian widow (an excellent supporting role by Isabella Rosselini) is wearing the naff necklace that we saw being advertised on the shopping channel. I’m unsure what gender point the director was making. Apart from Joy, all the women are over-dressed, over made-up, in garish clothes, a reflection of the ludicrous glitz of the TV soap that Mom watches constantly. In close up, they then look raddled: mutton dressed as lamb. In contrast (apart from De Niro, Cooper and Ramirez) the men are incredibly scruffy and ugly in dull browns and beiges. The California factory guys are all spectacularly foul. In a scene where Joy tries to demonstrate her mop in a supermarket car park, ex-husband Tony appears with a very rough looking Latina girlfriend and two nasty-looking thugs.That’s why it’s such a shock to see that Joy has gone to the dark side … sorry, the plastic politician / businesswoman of the year well-groomed side … at the end. It’s also unsettling that what a woman has produced, and marketed against all obstacles with grit and determination, is merely a domestic gadget.
Joy invents the mop head using her child’s toy
As with American Hustle the found music is first rate, must get the soundtrack CD stuff. They use bits of 44 songs. Cream’s I Feel Free bookends the film, and is in a version by Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes over the closing credits. Edgar Ramirez does a cheerful Mama Told Me Not To Come as well as a duet with Jennifer Lawrence on Somethin’ Stupid. Mama Told Me Not To Come is a companion piece to Delilah in American Hustle and Tony (Edgar Ramirez) states he wants to be the next Tom Jones (not usually the version of Mama Told Me Not to Come I think of). One suspects David O. Russell likes Tom Jones. Buffalo Springfields’s Expecting To Fly is played movingly over a death and funeral. There’s Elvis Presley on A Little Less Conversation when she loses her temper and marches out of dad’s garage, and vents her frustration on the rifle range next door. There’s To Love Somebody. A House With Love In It. First rate curated soundtrack.
Joy lets it all out the American Way,
Overall, like American Hustle last year it has a great cast, doing everything right. My main issue is how far we take this “Invent a gadget. Rags to Riches” bullshit at face value. It would have been better perhaps to emphasise the soap opera parallel plot more and for longer. We loved those bits. There’s a lot of humour. A lot of sentimentality. A lot of great music. The leading actor, Jennifer Lawrence, towers, but she usually does. Bradley Cooper’s supporting role is small in the overall length of the film, but when he appears he has instant charisma, and is totally believable as a man of enormous power … his TV shopping channel direction is that “hands are more important than faces” and when he first comes on screen, the camera only works from shoulders down so it’s a couple of minutes before we see his face.
Oscar prediction: Jennifer Lawrence.
Best supporting actor nomination prediction: Bradley Cooper
For years I’ve done “gratuitous smoking alerts” in stage plays. I’m introducing a “distressed baby” alert for films. There’s a bad one early on with Joy holding a very distressed crying baby. Babies can’t act. The only way you get a distressed baby on-screen, which is what they want, is by distressing a baby. It’s unacceptable. My companion wants to beat up the director every time she sees a baby like that. She’s right. In any house, running a tape for hours would give you genuine distressed baby sounds eventually. You can then hold the baby facing the other way and overlay the soundtrack.