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.