Joy 2015, Dir: David O Russell

New Miracle Mop

New Miracle Mop

Warning: Might contain a couple of small spoilers!

The only possible joy you can get out of this dire film is from the title. I just can’t imagine for what qualities this film is being heralded as a celebration of a ‘successful’ woman.

All the characters are odious, ignorant, selfish, loathsome and self-serving. We have a family of four generations and there doesn’t seem to be one iota of real love or respect between any of them. We are told (by the narrator) that Joy and her divorced husband are the best of friends, but we don’t really get any feel of that from what we see on the screen – this is a case of tell don’t show.

This is the type of family where you would be afraid to turn your back, their being so many knives out one would bound to end up in your back.

The eponymous character walks through all this in an almost catatonic state. She has sacrificed her future for others (compounded by a disastrous marriage which might have produced children but even when on screen they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time).

Just in case we’re not clear that she is a put upon drudge, her good nature being abused by all around her, when in a difficult domestic situation she is shown with spilt food, vomit and any other detritus that’s supposed to be the consequence of bringing up young children.

Her principal invention was a mop. Now, is this a problem with American housewives (obviously at the time the film is set, late 80s/early 90’s men wouldn’t be regularly mopping the kitchen) or generally throughout the world? She gets her inspiration from ‘having’ to squeeze out a mop with her hands after a glass had been smashed but instead of trying to pick up as much glass as possible, then attacking the liquid she tries to collect both glass and liquid at the same time meaning she has to squeeze cotton full of glass shards and cutting her hands in the process. Are people really that stupid? And wasn’t the mop bucket invented by the 1990s?

The invention of this revolutionary mop is her contribution to ‘female liberation’ .

But it’s one thing to invent something, it’s another to get it sold. Her breakthrough comes when she, herself, stands in front of the camera of a TV shopping channel and promotes the virtues of her baby. But the scenes at the studio were likewise ludicrous. The initial attempt, using a so-called ‘professional’ presenter is sabotaged as he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Her own attempt is close to disaster when she appears like a rabbit caught in the headlights when the cameras roll. Is that credible? Would such a commercial broadcasting company put people on live television without adequate preparation? Did Jennifer Lawrence herself just turn up on the set of her first film without a screen test? Does the director consider us that stupid? (Presumably, the answer is yes.)

After yet another scene where her abilities are being disparaged by her family instead of standing up for herself and arguing back she meekly leaves the building. This being the United States of America she then asks for the loan of a pump shotgun (from a conveniently placed, open air firing range) and then kills a few bottles. She would have been better served, and it would have made a much better and more interesting film, if she had returned to the office and used it on her family.

At a time when there are (almost invariably not to be unimplemented) measures talked about gun control in the US we are here given a demonstration where the release of frustration through the use of a hand-held killing machine is the way to achieve the ‘American Dream’.

After yet another scene where the world seems to be against her (and especially her odious family) she is shown, for the first time, actually doing something rather than just acting as a doormat or a mouse. And how do we know she is now on the warpath? She perpetrates the (seemingly) greatest crime a woman can do to herself – she cuts her long girly tresses.

Then things get worse. She travels half way across the country, arranges to meet someone she believes has cheated and defrauded her in an empty room in a cheap hotel, whose first words to her are that she doesn’t know who he is and whether he has come to eliminate someone who is becoming a nuisance, but then he just caves in to her threat to expose him. Not only that he offers to give her a more money to placate her anger. That scene was absolutely ridiculous. The whole build up to it was ridiculous.

Throughout we are bombarded by trite, home spun philosophy about achieving potential, never giving in, examples of those who had lived the ‘American Dream’, that all are equal in America, that anyone can achieve success, regardless of class or colour. On and on it went. Perhaps instead of telling the viewer of the film they should have said so to those who are queuing outside food banks throughout the benighted United States.

If all this isn’t enough when we get to the end and hear how she continued to support her despicable family, even though they tried to rob her (yet again), we are subjected to her being patronising to a young, black, female inventor and distributing her largess. And to remind us (as if we need reminding) that she came from humble beginnings we see her finger her scraps of paper from her childhood. It was enough to make my skin creep.

And whose idea was it to give us a narrator who is literally telling the story from beyond the grave?

Finally, what has happened to that coterie of fine American actors who came on our screens in the 1970s? Robert de Niro is in this film and he was an embarrassment. If he has to continue to appear on the big screen perhaps he should be doing what a couple of his contemporaries, i.e., Pacino and Keitel, are now doing. Just make adverts where bad acting is a bonus and live on the glories of the past.

For reasons that are beyond me this film is up for nominations in the upcoming awards season (and has already been nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress – Musical or Comedy, in the 2016 Golden Globe Awards). It might well win (you can’t blame the Academy, for example, for taste). Win or lose Lawrence will probably be able to command even more money than she does at the moment for the roles she will take on. She might not get as much as the men but will still earn more than 99% of the world’s population, let alone those in the acting profession worldwide. We can only hope that with some of those earnings she buys her Mexican maid (probably on minimum wage) a new mop.


American Hustle (2013) – dir. David O Russell

Atlantic City after Hurricane Sandy 2013

Atlantic City after Hurricane Sandy 2013

Seventies fashion gets a lot of stick nowadays, as does the hair that went with it, but films with stories from the 70s are definitely in vogue at the moment (with Behind the Candelabra and Lovelace being two that come to mind). To the ensemble cast of actors that are up for a number of awards in American Hustle you could also add the clothes and even the music.

The Mob, Politicians and Corruption appear so often in the same sentence when discussing US society that it’s not a surprise that they come together here – with the FBI added for good measure.

Like all good stories of this type the surreal nature of the plot and unfolding of the story is made even more so by the fact that it is ‘based on a true story’. In 1978 the FBI hired/forced to cooperate a convicted con man in what became known as Abscam. This was an undercover ‘sting’ which set out to entrap, and succeeded in doing so, the mayor of Camden, New Jersey as well as an US Senator and a handful of other top politicians. Although the FBI was successful in both the film and in actuality this operation ended up being criticised for its tactics and the rules of the game, for them, were changed. Whether that was rightful indignation against entrapment or the politicians just trying to make things more secure for themselves in the future is another matter.

Camden was in the 1970s, and by all accounts remains to this day, one of the poorest inner city districts on the east coast. In real life Angelo Errichetti, the Democratic mayor from 1973-1981, was a bit of a populist and seemed to have a lot of support in his efforts to try to revive the district and bring down the high unemployment rate. The trouble starts when he considers that making gambling legal in Atlantic City (at that time the run down, once popular tourist resort on the coast) would lead to inward investment, regeneration of the area and employment opportunities.

Unfortunately for both the fictional and the real mayor in the US gambling means big money means the Mafia WILL have a share, the only question is ‘how much’. By bringing the gangsters into the affair he brings about his own downfall. When the FBI (when it’s not chasing Reds or getting involved in conspiracies to kill a president) smells the chance of a high-profile arrest of a top Mafioso they’re like a dog with a bone and won’t let go.

It’s interesting what goes around comes around.

This part of New Jersey was once a thriving commercial and industrial area when capitalism needed US workers. Through lack of investment and better opportunities elsewhere where labour was cheaper, in Latin America or Asia (a similar situation was developing at the same time in the UK) once so-called secure jobs just evaporated, almost overnight, leaving in its wake decline, deprivation and despair.

In such circumstances people will clutch at anything, even if the best that can be offered is working as a croupier in a casino – in Atlantic City that would mean working to put more money into the hands of the Mafia. So one set of gangsters is replaced by another, perhaps more honest, one.

Because of the FBI sting in the 70s the plan to develop the boardwalk in Camden didn’t come to fruition. Although a number of politicians were caught up in it (I won’t get into the discussion of whether they did what they did because they thought the best way to achieve what they had promised the voters rather than for personal gain – as far as I’m concerned all ‘democratically elected’ politicians are in it for something, whether it be financial gain or personal aggrandisement) none of the Mafia went down. I don’t know if it’s one of the true stories or whether it was put there for artistic effect but the mob boss threw a spanner in the works by showing a command of languages, even though he had been a cold-blooded assassin in the past. Fear of retribution also meant the Mafia were warned off. So the easy targets were caught but the real gangsters were allowed to go free due to incompetence.

For the people of Camden the debacle of the corruption case didn’t mean that national government looked on them favourably. They had gone through the disaster years of Nixon and Carter and they were about to face two terms of Reagan. If the national leaders didn’t come up with anything their future local ‘leaders’ didn’t turn out any better. Three out of the last 5 mayors of Camden have been convicted of corruption. Perhaps it’s something in the sea air?

I wonder how present day residents of Camden see the film? Even though in recent years the area has been developed there’s a stratification between the fortress like casinos and the ordinary people who live there, as was seen when Hurricane Sandy hit the resort last spring

The resort isn’t as sleazy as it was depicted in the 1980 film Atlantic City but it still doesn’t look any different from Blackpool with the sun – although I’m sure that during winter the Atlantic coast is a forbidding place. However, there are treats in store. February offers a Group Wedding Ceremony on the 14th (so get your booking in quick!). August provides the Grape Stomping Festival and there’s the Miss America Pageant in September. All year around you can ‘explore the world’s largest elephant’ or visit Bare Exposure with ‘over a 100 beautiful naked girls’ with a ‘buy one couch dance, get one free’ deal.

But Camden is still one of America’s poorest cities and suffers from all that accompanies such an economic situation. It has almost 5 times the violent crime rate of cities of a comparable size (giving it number one place in country) and two out every five residents live below the national poverty level. Rather than the situation getting better it seems that law changes in Philadelphia are starting to challenge Atlantic City’s monopoly on gambling so even that ‘boost’ to the local economy might be lost in the near future.

Such is the American Dream.