The best line in Joy, the latest film from writer and director David O'Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter, America Hustle), comes from a character with comparatively little screen time.
"It's about the hands," says Neil Walker, played by Bradley Cooper, when explaining to his newest protégé how stars like Joan Rivers turn products on television into sales. "That's what people use. They hold things that they care about."
The sentiment is compelling on several accounts. One, it suggests the attainability of the American Dream, or the idea that a single mother can physically build a business to support her family. Second, it recalls a pivotal moment that takes place earlier in the film, when Joy, played by Jennifer Lawrence, wrings out a mop and gets injured by catching glass shards in her hands. Lastly, it suggests the incredible tenacity required to grow a startup.
This film is rich in business lessons, most obviously because it is loosely based on the entrepreneurial journey of the real-life Joy Mangano, an infomercial titan who first rose to success in the '90s. She now serves as president of the firm Ingenious Designs LLC.
Director O'Russell creatively bakes the emotional experience of running a company into the narrative itself. Viewers are forced to shift back and forth from Joy's childhood to the present, and even fast forward to the future and into her dream sequences. It feels symbolic of how erratic running a company can be.
Joy's Miracle Mop is a good value proposition. It takes a pre-existing tool and makes it easier to use. Complete with a 300-foot cotton loop and detachable head that can go in the washing machine, the mop's market potential is obvious from the beginning. Her sensational business path is not.
Here are a few takeaways from Joy, which hits theaters nationwide Christmas day.
1. Being successful requires a ton of luck.
It's hard to walk away from Joy unmoved by Mangano's persistence. Still, the film is heavy-handed with chance encounters that don't feel realistic, but which catapult the entrepreneur to success.
To attain capital for her idea, for instance, Joy goes to her cantankerous father, Rudy, played by Robert De Niro, and asks that he have his new paramour, Trudi, invest in the company. (Trudi, who just so happens to be wealthy, agrees to go in on the venture.)
Another lucky coincidence is when Joy's unemployed ex-husband, Tony, played by Edgar Ramirez, just so happens to have a friend who works at QVC. When the two take a spontaneous road trip to the headquarters of the home shopping network in Pennsylvania, Walker agrees to meet with Joy, who successfully pitches him her product.
Starting a company requires tons of grit. Arguably, though, it requires just as much luck.
2. Perseverance is key, especially for women in business.
Unsurprisingly, Joy struggles as a woman in a largely male-dominated career path. Throughout the film, those male characters continually take advantage of her--whether intentionally or unintentionally.
What's more, Joy is surrounded by stereotypical female paradigms, from the soap opera characters whom her mother worships, to the wardrobe heads at QVC, who ask that she wear a revealing outfit when selling her mop on national television.
Joy perseveres in more ways than one: She rejects failure, and her own bankruptcy, when both outcomes seem inevitable. She refuses to pay for her manufacturing partner's blunders, even when that jeopardizes her supply chain. And in one charming scene, she changes back from a dress into her blouse and pants, to present the mop in her everyday wear.
3. You can't go it alone.
Joy's countless setbacks would be difficult to stomach, if not for the comic relief that her family affords.
Her father, though full of good intentions, is oblivious. Together, along with her mother (who falls hopelessly in love with their Haitian plumber), they make archetypal dysfunctional parents. Joy's ex-husband isn't the brightest bulb, but he's sweetly committed to Joy and her venture, and offers sage wisdom at the times that she needs it most.
Joy lets her own romantic life fall by the wayside, which is a common trope in the entrepreneurial experience. Still, she isn't alone: Whether intentionally or not, her family members help her to achieve small (and ultimately, very big) measures of success.