‘Joy’ celebrates pursuing one’s dreams

“Joy” (2015). Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Röhm, Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Ken Howard, Melissa Rivers, Drena De Niro, Isabelle Crovetti-Cramp, Emily Nuñez, Madison Wolfe, Aundrea Gadsby, Gia Gadsby, Alexander Cook, Bates Wilder, Bill Thorpe, Marianne Leone, Donna Mills. Director: David O. Russell. Screenplay: David O. Russell. Story: Annie Mumolo and David O. Russell. Web site. Trailer.

It’s a pretty safe bet to say that most of us have dreams we would like to see realized. But how many of us actually follow through even partially, let alone at all? Perhaps it’s because we don’t know how to make them happen. Or maybe we don’t have the gumption for what it takes. But perhaps it’s a matter of our outlook, the set of beliefs we hold about the viability of our dreams and how they can be made manifest. Those in search of inspiration on this front may find what they’re looking for in the new fact-based comedy-drama, “Joy.”

Based on the lives of several successful women entrepreneurs (most notably inventor and cable television product sales mogul Joy Mangano), the film follows the misadventures, exploits and accomplishments of a composite character simply named Joy (Jennifer Lawrence). When viewers first meet the film’s heroine, she lives a harried and frustrating life. As the divorced mother of two, she works a thankless job as an airline ticket counter agent, barely eking out a living to support her largely dysfunctional family. Besides her two kids, Joy shares a cramped house with her divorced, soap opera-addicted mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), a socially challenged recluse who almost never leaves her bedroom; her ne’er-do-well ex-husband, Tony (Édgar Ramírez), an aspiring but mostly unsuccessful lounge singer who lives in the basement; and her recently arrived father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), a genuinely loving and supportive influence in Joy’s life but who, thanks to a history of failed relationships, has now been forced into sharing the basement with his former son-in-law. In addition to the challenges of her crazy housemates, Joy also has to contend with the routine wranglings of her malicious half-sister, Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm), with whom she has had an ongoing, inexplicably spiteful rivalry ever since childhood.

But Joy is not without her supporters either. First there’s Joy’s childhood friend, Jackie (Dascha Polanco), who has faithfully stood by her through the years, even when things were at their worst. And then there’s the bright spot of Joy’s household, Mimi (Diane Ladd), her adoring grandmother (and the film’s narrator), who sees great things for her granddaughter (even when she can’t envision them for herself).

The ability to envision those grand accomplishments, however, is precisely what Mimi believes will be Joy’s ticket to success and abundance. She sees sparks of this in her granddaughter’s ingenuity for coming up with ideas for simple, inventive products that fulfill important consumer needs and hold the potential to make piles of cash. But, given Joy’s frantic schedule and lack of funds, she seldom has time or money to devote to these pursuits. That all changes one day, however, when a little domestic accident gives rise to an idea that proves to be the seminal brainchild for launching a new career.

While on a sailing excursion with her family on the boat of Rudy’s latest love interest, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), a wealthy widow, a wine bottle falls and breaks, spilling its contents and shattering glass all over the deck. Joy volunteers to clean up the mess, but, while manually wringing the mop head, she cuts her hand by glass shards that became embedded in the cloth. As painful as this is, however, the incident gives her an idea for creating a new type of self-wringing mop.

Not long thereafter, Joy develops a prototype and seeks backers, like Trudy, to finance her efforts. Jackie, Rudy and Tony lend their support, too, running interference against detractors like Peggy, who repeatedly snipes at her sibling, claiming that she knows nothing about running a business. So, with such tangible, intangible and backhanded assistance, Joy forges ahead, finding sources to create molds and supply materials for her product.

With her new Miracle Mop in hand, Joy begins marketing her wares but without much success. Her fates change dramatically, however, when Tony introduces Joy to an old friend, Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), an influential programming executive at an up-and-coming powerhouse in the cable television home shopping industry, QVC. As an enterprise featuring such high-profile spokespeople as Joan Rivers (Melissa Rivers), QVC and its principals look upon an upstart like Joy with much skepticism. But, when Neil is sold on the product’s capabilities, he relents and decides to give Joy a shot. Thus begins a rollercoaster ride that Joy never could have imagined, one involving phenomenal success, devastating setbacks, internal family squabbles, fraud and personal heartache. But it also marks Joy’s emergence as a personal dynamo, a true force to be reckoned with, one who many underestimated – and very much at their peril.

Living our dreams is something that most of us hope to realize for ourselves, but many times we’re at a loss to figure out how to do so. When “life happens to us,” we often lose our focus, frequently becoming discouraged, unable to make much, if any, headway on reaching our goals. However, all need not be lost, especially if we make judicious use of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience in all of its various aspects.

The core of this practice rests with our beliefs, the driving force in shaping our existence. They provide the conceptual template for our reality, and, when they are coupled with the energy provided by our divine collaborator (the Universe or whatever comparable name best suits you), they spring forth into tangible form. But, to make the process work to our liking, it’s important that we identify what those beliefs are. And, for those with an inherently creative bent, it’s crucial that we identify those beliefs with specificity to make the most of the process.

When inventive types (like Joy) seek to make use of the process, they must be able to envision the output of their ideas to bring them into being. This often involves thinking outside the box and pushing the limits of their creativity. Some might see this as an overwhelming task, but, for those who are able to conceptualize the solutions necessary to address their particular problems, the beliefs – and their physically manifested progeny – frequently follow.

The more one is able to embrace the foregoing, the more likely one is able to get the desired results. This is where the concept of faith comes into play. By imbuing our conceptions with an unshakable sense of certainty, we develop a greater sense of confidence in the viability of our ideas and the ability to see them realized as tangible materializations. And, the stronger the faith, the better the outcome.

There are several steps we can take to enhance our effectiveness at this. For instance, following our intuition can pay big dividends, because it provides clues about what we should consider pursuing in the formation of our beliefs. Joy picks up on this, for example, when the idea for the mop comes to her. She sees the potential and subsequently forms the beliefs necessary for bringing it into physical existence.

Intuition (and the beliefs that arise from it) can also show us what to avoid by birthing creations that depict what doesn’t serve us. In Joy’s case, this becomes apparent when she looks at her mother’s soap opera addiction. The show that Terry incessantly watches features a cast of pathetic, squabbling, self-serving characters (Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, Alexander Cook) reminiscent of Joy’s own family. Segments from the program are intercut with incidents from Joy’s everyday existence, paralleling her own reality and reminding her of what she doesn’t want out of life.

Mirrors like this are unmistakable, prompting us to identify what’s wrong and what needs to be changed. For Joy, they trigger memories of her younger self (Isabelle Crovetti-Cramp), an ambitious, enterprising young girl who believed she could do great things, like create marvelous inventions, and those flashbacks help to set her on a new course. And, when those insights are reinforced with Mimi’s supremely confident encouragement, Joy is able to adjust her prevailing outlook, enabling her to get back on track with her plans, to get back to those original beliefs about herself and what she wanted to do with her life.

In part successful materialization also depends on identifying the synchronicities that help foster our creations. These meaningful coincidences, which also spring forth from our beliefs, provide the catalytic sparks that prompt new rounds of more defined beliefs that further the manifestation process. For example, had Joy not recognized the opportunity available to her when the wine bottle broke on Trudy’s boat deck, she might not have invented her mop – or reaped any of the rewards that flowed from that.

These simple concepts are important for all of us, but budding entrepreneurs and inventors may find them particularly useful. They provide the inspiration we need to make things happen. And the example set by Joy just might be the impetus for helping us get our own plans off the ground.

While watching “Joy,” I couldn’t help but repeatedly remark to myself, “What unusual subject matter for a movie.” Given Hollywood’s current penchant for recycling story lines, unduly extending movie franchises and needlessly launching reboots, I appreciate the attempt at originality, something director David O. Russell has come to be known for, as seen in movies like “American Hustle” (2013) and “Flirting with Disaster” (1996). And its inspiring ideas are truly helpful for those seeking to live their dreams and to chart a path to success.

However, to make a movie such as this work, it has to fire on all cylinders, which, unfortunately, “Joy” does not do consistently. The film works well in a number of ways (acting, casting, inspirational themes) but drops the ball in others (writing, pacing, staying on point). Had the script and film editing gone through some additional tweaking, this might have been a truly terrific movie, but, as it stands now, it’s merely above average. With that said, however, be sure to give sufficient props to Jennifer Lawrence, Isabella Rossellini and Virginia Madsen for great acting turns in their respective performances.

Despite its shortcomings, the film has garnered a modicum of attention in this year’s awards competitions. Thus far it has earned two Golden Globe Award nominations for Lawrence’s stellar performance and as best comedy film. It has also captured comparable recognition in the Critics Choice Award contest, grabbing three nominations for best comedy film and two nods for Lawrence as best actress overall and best actress in a comedy.

When life doesn’t pan out as hoped for, it’s easy to become discouraged. We may reconcile ourselves to our circumstances, giving up on ever seeing our dreams come true. But sometimes simple adjustments in our thinking can bring about significant changes, as Joy’s experience illustrates. And who knows, if we go about it correctly, those changes just might prove to be the kind that allow us to mop up the rewards.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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