The 2015 movie Joy, headlined by Jennifer Lawrence, turned out to be one of those films that helps make sense of the world for one writer – here’s her story.
Spoilers lie ahead for Joy.
On New Year’s Day in 2016, I hauled my family to the first screening of David O Russell’s latest feature, Joy. When I think of all the things people mark in their calendars, a 19-year-old would rarely be so enthralled at the concept of watching a 124-minute love letter to a woman who manufactured the first miracle mop, but for me, I had been counting down to this day for months.
Around the 30-minute mark, a knocked-out Joy takes an intoxicated sleep upon her staircase. A younger version of herself welcomes her to a metaphorical funeral taking place in the backdrop of her mother’s favourite soap opera. There are many nods to things hiding throughout the film. They include a repeated reference to cicadas who spend their youth buried deep in the ground, and in Joy’s hazy subconscious an eerie quote echoes from her younger self: “funny thing about hiding, you’re even hidden from yourself”.
In that screening on New Year’s Day, that quote rang through my ears and right to my heart.
For the first time in my life, I struggled deeply with anxiety, related directly to what I’d dedicated myself to in adolescence. Ever since I was young, I’d been committed to pursuing a creatively fulfilling career. “Joy was one of those people who rejoiced in making things,” are some of the first words uttered by an omniscient Diane Ladd in the film, and this perfectly encapsulates my memory of childhood.
I was addicted to ‘busy’ from a young age, filling after-school hours with performing arts classes where I’d sit and rush homework between lessons and then be home by 9, and into school the next day at 8. But it was what brought me joy. It felt like the ticket to success.
When I got my acceptance letter for a London drama school at 17, all those efforts felt like they had paid off. It was going to be the final step before life went the way I had envisioned.
Yet, a single year at drama school broke every ounce of spirit, passion and love I had for the arts, for the craft, and for others that I possessed. For the first time in my life, I felt riddled with a sense of purposelessness.
At only 19, I saw myself in Joy as she completed a shift at her unfulfilling job in an airport, visually overwhelmed by the lack of humanity as customers directed their aggression towards her. I saw that childhood dream that once existed fade away into a convenience, in a world that thrives on crushing dreams.
I had been in both full and part-time employment for seven months before Joy was released. I felt like I had failed a younger version of myself whose eyes were clear with hope and ambition as I struggled to see which direction I was heading in.
Trips to the cinema were the only refuge I had when I returned to my small hometown. I began to crave those two to three hours immersed in the darkness where my mind could focus on someone else’s reality.
It was there I first saw the trailer for Joy. To this day, when I think of the strings opening to the Bee Gee’s To Love Somebody, it fills me with that same feeling of sitting alone in a near-empty cinema screen and being filled with the overwhelming emotion of hope.
There’s something incredibly poignant about how David O Russell captures the act of one woman’s dream with gravitas. Watching Jennifer Lawrence zone in on her illustrations while her daughter and grandmother dutifully respect the work she creates felt radical. Then, when Joy holds that final product in her hand and it’s abstract to everyone in the room but her, it didn’t matter because it made sense to her. She could see the dream, and Russell beautifully anchors it with a different section of Gimme All Your Love, by Alabama Shakes – the same song that echoes in the earlier scene as she’s mistreated by a customer.
Joy didn’t have to change to get to this moment. She just had to ask.
We can only ever speculate the intention of a director, but this interpretation was enough to catapult me straight into a new dream: filmmaking. I wanted to make the thing that one day would give someone like me at that moment hope that their ambition deserves handling with weight and earnestness.
Joy was the impetus for an application to film school. “You sound shocked,” are the words I remember hearing from the admissions man who called to accept me in late January 2016. Shortly after the call had ended, I cried. The tuition was too expensive, and I couldn’t afford to go. I went back and forth for months and exhausted every avenue for finance possible, but it wasn’t enough.
Months had passed, and I was on shift in the restaurant I worked in when my phone buzzed in my pocket. I dipped behind the bar to answer the call, and it was the admissions officer.
That call couldn’t have been longer than five minutes, but in an instant, I felt the future shift as he explained that there was bursary money available and they’d like to offer it to me so I could attend the school.
I have no idea where I’d be or what I’d be doing right now if that call hadn’t happened on a late August afternoon.
In one of my first modules, we had to choose a scene from a film to break down and discuss why we admired the direction. I shared the moment where Joy cuts her hair and flies to Texas to negotiate with the man who profited off her dream. I had finally found the version of myself that I was supposed to be, and no longer the one that others expected from me.
I watched as Joy experienced that same catharsis as she took her future back into her own hands.
With the gift of hindsight, it’s easy to reflect upon this memory and mock a young version of myself for feeling the weight of things that pale in comparison to the world on a grander scale. I’ve been in the industry for five years now in various mediums and have found new meaning for the urgency of film, where we see a depth of stories on the screen that empower us to feel our voice is necessary. The growing disdain for the arts in a culture where they are underfunded and deemed unworthy of investment hinders us from providing hope to those who need it.
Joy displays an empathetic and compassionate way of dreaming. The ending shares her using her success to lift the ambition of others in whom she recognises herself. She finally gets her seat at the table and uses it in the way she wished others had used it for her.
Perhaps the most beautiful, yet poignant part of this is, Russell doesn’t end the film with this future, he leaves us with the vision of a woman unknowing of what this moment will mean for her. One chapter may have closed, but another is dawning.
For so many, this time may feel like that moment. We have just entered a new year with hope and expectations, surpassing one hurdle but falling into another.
Upon reflection, perhaps David O Russell’s film was preparing me for this season, instead of the one I was living through at the time of release, or maybe it was both. Joy will always be that film I return to, to hold onto that moment where she sees her creation in her hands with a clear understanding of what it means for the present, but not for the future.
Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:
Buy our Film Stories and Film Stories Junior print magazines here.
Become a Patron here.