My Problem with Joy

And no, this isn’t a sad blog about Anhedonia or Melancholia or any of the other  -onias or –olias that can assail us from time to time.

Nor is it about the Pixarian Joy in Inside Out – the best film of 2015 bar none, Oscars Schmoscars (see what I did there? No not that, the thing with Pixar – I adjectived it man, keep up).

No. It’s about the film Joy, which we went to see last December and I’m only getting to moan/rant/write about it now.

So this is a film by David O. Russel (one el, mind) him to be (as Marty Whelan says) of American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook and I Heart Huckabees fame – all hail David O. Russel. He co-wrote the screenplay with Annie Mumolo too so it’s his film, lock stock and two smoking barrels, so to speak.

The main players are: Jennifer Lawrence (sigh), Bradley Cooper, Robert de Niro, Virginia Madsden, Isabella Rossellini, and Edgar Ramirez. And it tells the story of Joy Mangano, a self-made millionaire who created her own business empire. Mangano was a divorced mother with three children in the early 1990s when she invented the Miracle Mop and became an overnight success, after which she patented many other products, often selling on the Home Shopping Network and QVC (thank you large website with a lot of information about a lot of stuff).

Right. So far so good. So what’s the problem? Well there are two: one is mine, and one is David O. Russel’s.

David O. Russel’s problem is that he tells the story as a roller-coaster. Joy is down, things aren’t good. Then she’s really down, life is crap. Then she’s up a bit, then she’s up another bit, but no – false alarm, she’s down again. Then she’s far down, it’s terrible, then up, then level for a bit and then and up and up and up – my God she’s on TV and and and wait, no, she’s down again, something bad happened with her business. Then she’s way down, but no, no, now she’s up again and maybe yes, she’s up and this time she stays up and she’s to the moon. Yay. Or is she? At the end of the film I staggered out of the cinema, trying to regain my balance. One of the people behind me puked during a particularly hairy descent.

Now all films have stages where there are blips and rises and that’s fine. Without one, the other is fairly meaningless. And contrast is good. The Greek Agon, doncha know. But in this case, he just went plain mad and lost the run of himself. After two hours of these loop-the-loops, I didn’t care tuppence whether the mop went viral or she stayed selling the damn thing in the car park outside Walmart. And that’s not like me. Especially when Jen (I call her Jen) is involved.

And the second problem, and this is all mine, is with Bobby de Niro (I call him Bobby). And with Isabella Rossellini (I call her Ms. Rossellini, I’m afraid of her). And my problem is that I couldn’t see them in the roles at all. The grandfather and his lady friend. All I could see were Bobby and Ms. Rossellini, two formerly great actors – and not the characters they were meant to portray. Eek!

So this is awkward. Here I am in Douglas Cinema, watching this film by a film maker I really admire, and all the other actors are fine, they’re all doing the biz, and Jen is excelling, as per usual. (Me and Jen go way back, back to Winter’s Bone, in which she was wonderful as the great character Ree Dolly, who had to save her family from penury and homelessness in a crystal meth ridden Ozark Mountain backwater in the film of the great Daniel Woodrell novel of the same name. And she did. And if it came to a hunger game between Ree and Katniss, I’m backing Ree any old time).

No. It’s only dem two. Which two? Dem two. De Niro and Rossellini.

And I know it’s me, it’s me. I can’t see Robert de Niro as anybody except Robert de Niro any more. I’ve seen one too many of his grimaces or something. And in fact it wasn’t Rossellini that I was seeing on the screen so much as her mother, Ingrid Bergman – instead of the business woman she was trying to portray. What the hell? I think I’ve had a problem with de Niro for a while, and I was just about able to believe him in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle (where he was a mobster, now that I can believe) and I haven’t seen him in a major role in years because he makes mainly tat.

Now my big fear is this – contagion. What if the next Daniel Day Lewis film I go to, the same thing happens? Or Meryl Streep? Or whoever? And why Robert de Niro? And why only Robert de Niro (and Isabella Rossellini)? I don’t bloody know, is why. But I’m worried. I’m concerned. I’m alarmed. It could be curtains in the cinema for me. Not even funny.

But back to Jen. Isn’t she great? Yes she is. Despite my suspension of disbelief problems and my roller coaster nausea, she is still just wonderful and did I ever tell you about the time she was on the Graham Norton show drinking whiskey in a ridiculously short mini skirt and she killed that too? She told a story about pizzas and the Oscars and she ‘cried’. I mean come on! Got to love her.

And I do. Oh yes.




Novelist, short story writer, essayist, sports writer. Crime novel: Whatever it Takes due out 31 July 2020. The First Sunday in September, debut novel, published in 2018. Mercier Press, Stinging Fly, Irish Examiner, Irish Times,, Holly Bough, Honest Ulsterman, Quarryman, Silver Apples.

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