I love film. Let me start there. I’ll continue with the caveat that this review is colored by my most recent film excursions, including the story of a woman overcoming tragedy and defamation to bring retribution on an Australian country town, and the story of a woman who loses house, home, income and reputation to bring about votes for women in the early 1900s. Joy is about a woman who must stand up to her family’s expectations (or lack thereof) and invent a mop. I left disheartened by these producers who promised me an uplifting, relatable tale of feminine strength and success, and did not deliver.
I can pinpoint three things about this film I thought did more damage than good for the causes its advertising proclaims to endorse.
- Every female character in this film is depicted as either weak-willed and self-doubting, or a manipulative, self-serving bastard. And what little bit of that felt like satire was patronising to the audience in its Luhrmann-esque opulence. For all that Joy is a woman we can relate to: a goodhearted, hardworking mother with twentieth-century-disease. Flung along the milestones of marriage, mortgage and motherhood, her story is all too familiar; perhaps this is what the opening notes about how the story is inspired by countless women who have triumphed over adversity meant. But I call foul, and maybe I am wrong, because for all the obstacles, she did smarten up, she did stop presuming advice from those around her was good, she did end up in he big house with the kids who loved her and there was no love story. But I call foul: Joy is not the only woman in this film, and her story is one where her success is impeded by bitter people around her who never change, or feel like they should change and in real life, it shouldn’t be like that. Joy’s entrepreneurial spirit is the only good thing about this movie (aside from the nod to Joan Rivers) and it is continually drowned out by dream sequence and sickening scapegoating by the other characters. Which brings me around to…
- Some have said that Joy‘s intrigue and modernity are based around a lack of resolution in the film, it’s a real “real-life” picture. I call foul again because nowhere in the content do we find remorse or victory over the agonising-to-watch mistreatment of parent upon child in the film. Optimists like me in the audience will see that the fact Joy never cast out or reprimanded her father for his remarks on how worthless she was, nor her underhanded sister, nor her victim mother, is an indication that true resolution comes from abject forgiveness. Optimists like me will recognise that although Joy directly and violently cast the same cynicism and shutdown of self-esteem inflicted upon her to her daughter, the fact that they’re still the image of loving at the end of the film probably means she turned out OK too. But it matters what we say to our children, it matters what sense of hope or importance we foster in them – that is apparently the message of the film but the titular character continues the vicious cycle in the scene and this is never resolved or commented on.
- The grandmother narrator character was poorly constructed and poorly written. The cool speech from the trailer isn’t even in the film (fair because the film’s structure makes that speech redundant).
This film is a remark upon what must be overcome by women to achieve success, what expectations and crises of faith in oneself. And then it isn’t. See it for yourself, because I think films like this should be seen. And be entertained by it, for it is entertaining enough. But I believe we still have a responsibility to respect our audiences when we make abundantly clear the value of women in home, workplace, education centre and political stream. I fear this offering to the film industry’s representation of women is tokenistic, lazy and misguided. Joy is better than no joy. But Joy‘s lesson is hard to make out, and talking about things it only thinks it knows. Erin Brockovich would be rolling in its grave if it were anything close to dead. Now there’s a movie.
The cinema played this advertisement before the film about how terrible an adolescent boy felt after he hit his girlfriend as a deterrent to abuse. The whole ad was about how bad he felt. Think about that.
If you’re a woman who wants to do something great, check out these places:
If you’re the victim of domestic violence then you can speak to someone. It doesn’t to be physical violence to make an impact on your life. That is one thing to film makes clear: