“Joy”—To Behold



Joy is based on the true story of a divorced Long Island entrepreneur, Joy Mangano (played by Jennifer Lawrence), who invented the Miracle Mop in 1989. In the process she overcomes significant personal and business obstacles. Mangano develops an immensely prosperous business empire, first with QVC and later with the Home Shopping Network (HSN). This is all before retail stores realized their distribution channel was going to be decimated—first by QVC and HSN, and later by Amazon.

This film (written and directed by David O. Russell) reveals a deeply poignant story about a young intelligent woman, from a working class family, who battles a marginally functional mother, divorce, two young kids, a jealous step-sister and corporate risk-aversion. Joy ultimately is a modern fairly tale about believing in yourself and your dreams.

Joy, the inventor, comes up with the idea for the Miracle Mop while mopping her own floors, frustrated that her mop is smelly, couldn’t be washed, and had to be wrung by hand, particularly disgusting after cleaning around the toilet. So Joy improves on the old standby by creating the Miracle Mop, which wrings the water out with grapple handles, not the hands, and is removable for washing. She wants to show other homemakers how this small invention can improve their lives.  As a teenager, Joy had previously developed a brightly-colored flea collar for pets but no one was interested. Later, Hartz Mountain releases a similar product and as a result Joy vows to patent her next invention. We see the grandmother (Diane Ladd) encouraging Joy to keep on inventing, after her flea collar invention went nowhere. In addition, we see an investor (Isabella Rossellini) who takes a chance on Joy. Her family also props her up when she most needs validation.

Bradley Cooper, as a QVC executive, delegates the sale and promotion to a feckless executive. Joy goes out to meet the mop sales challenge herself. Bradley Cooper teases the viewer that romance may be in their future.

No one wants to be told that hard work and strong will are almost never enough to succeed in this world, and, as a whole, Joy does just that. That being said, Joy still is inspirational, a joy to behold as well as a force to be reckoned with, interlaced with some fine comedic scenes, particularly those of the soap-opera addled mother (Virginia Madsen) and her ex-husband (Robert DeNiro).

Jennifer Lawrence’s compelling performance—as in almost all of her movies—is noteworthy but, while nominated for an Academy Award, is certainly not her most challenging (which I still believe is “Winter’s Bone”). However, Lawrence takes you on an emotional, heart-aching journey about creating your own opportunities when others stand in your way. Go rent a copy of Joy for a feel-good movie.

The Good Wife—The Finale: A Good End?


The Good Wife finale
The Good Wife finale

The Good Wife ended its seventh addicting season on Mother’s Day as a paean to Alicia Florrick , the award-winning Julianna Margulies, and the journey Florrick has taken over the course of seven long years. (See my earlier May 12, 2012 review of this series. ) She realizes her rebirth—from the ignominy of being an adulterous governor’s wife, the lawyer who gave up her career to raise her two children to adolescence, to the brilliant lawyer who becomes a powerhouse both in the courtroom and in the political arena her husband thought was his territory alone.

[Spoiler Alert]

We watched the drama play out as a story of female empowerment revealed in our own lives and in headlines. We see a brilliantly bold statement , almost novelistic, in attacking the illusion of balance between family and career, between having it all and sacrificing it all. Dark, moody, with no “happily ever after”, Alicia Florrick has come full circle with her emotional response first to her husband Peter, then to her law partner Will Gardner (Josh Charles, who appears in this final episode), and finally to Jason, an investigator who is indispensable to her legal victories.

Connecting the dots to all the men in her life, her children moving from her life in order to create lives of their own, and to her future as an empty nester and ex- law partner, the final episode of “The Good Wife”  raises more questions than answers. In a dramatic device bookending the final episode with the very first, we see changes in Alicia as she stands next to her ex-husband as she had in episode one. But now there is subtlety to how she stands next to him—a favor she is hesitant to give—and  her defiance and the emotions overlaying scar tissue and unhealed wounds. Has she chosen personal fulfillment over obligation and duty? Does she understand the lies she has told and what she has given up? Was she pragmatic in seizing the prizes earned by a powerful lawyer or was she a fool?

In perhaps one of the most tantalizing scenes in this finale we see the ghost of Will Gardner commenting on her soon-to-be empty co-op—luxurious but barren. And he asks: Can she be happy living alone there? Jason later echoes almost the same: You’re only happy, Alicia, when you feel needed.

We’re right back where we started, but not quite. There is no redemption.


Note:  For another point of view on the finale of “The Good Wife”, see this article in Variety online.


“The Danish Girl”—There are Two

Danish Girl

Based on David Ebershoff’s novel, “The Danish Girl” is a compelling portrait of   transgender life in the early twentieth century. A dramatization of the diaries of Einar Wegener, one of the first trans women to undergo sex reassignment surgery, we see the transgender world: first, as Einar and then later, as Lili.

“The Danish Girl” opens with Einar, a landscape artist (played by Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”), who is married to Gerda (Alicia Verkander, “Ex Machina”), a painter of portraits. Both artists are supportive and sometimes resistant to each other’s career aspirations. In the beginning it is Einar who has more success in Copenhagen, and then later it is his wife, who becomes famous painting Lili. But the married couple has a passionate, bohemian lifestyle that suits both of them.

What begins one evening as a game—Einar dressing up in one of his wife’s gowns as cousin “Lili” for an artists’ ball—turns into the catalyst for his sexual transformation and discovery of who he truly is. Lili falls in love with Henrik (Ben Whishaw) and Gerda learns to fall in love again– with Lili. Both Danish girls care deeply for each other, and Gerda recognizes and appreciates Lili for who she is, in a wrenching and compassionate rebirth of love. In many ways it is Gerda’s ordeal, which is the heart and emotional pulse of “The Danish Girl”. She is the other Danish girl left to love first her husband as Einar Wegener, then as her best friend, Lili Elbe. Vikander is mesmerizing as Gerda (this year’s Academy Award winner for best actress,) struggling with the hurt, anguish, and confusion all registered simultaneously on her face as she stands by the love of her life.

This film tackles the life of a transgender individual with extraordinary dignity, respect, and complexity. The bravery to undergo harrowing experimental brain and sexual reassignment surgery, face brutal homophobic violence, and channel the confidence to accept who you are in spite of these affronts, will leave few viewers unmoved.   How many of us would have the grace of Gerda in adapting our relationship in similar circumstances? In watching “The Danish Girl”, you may be surprised to learn more about gender identity and crisis than you expected.

The Night Manager

night-managerBased on John le Carré’s 1993 novel, The Night Manager,  this AMC/BBC television miniseries is a spy thriller directed by Danish phenomena Susanne Bier (Of “A Better World”, see my October 7, 2014 review). Luxury hotel night manager Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), situated in Cairo during the impending Arab Spring, faces off against Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie of “House” fame), a formidable gun-runner turned financier and philanthropist living on the island of Mallorca.   Roper is an international jet-setter who entertains his beautiful mistress and his entourage in the Swiss Alps, Mallorca, and wherever arms deals can be brokered.

Pine is contacted by an intelligence operative (coordinated between MI6 and the CIA) who asks for his assistance in taking down Roper by infiltrating Roper’s virtually impenetrable inner circle.  After several horrifically violent scenes,  Pine seems to have succeeded.

The combination of star power performances by Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston make The Night Manager fun to watch with a distinct James Bond feeling. Hiddleston is every bit as sexually magnetic as any of the past James Bond actors who elicits lust in every woman who meets him.  And seeing Laurie as the evil villain we’ve come to expect not in our curmudgeonly Dr. House but in every antagonist in a Bond movie, the viewer can’t help but enjoy Laurie’s performance even as we root for Pine.

Like a Bond movie, part of the  pleasure in watching the story unfold is suspending one’s disbelief at the preposterous plot lines and heroic battles.  The Night Manager is as easy to watch as it is to forget, with sumptuous shots of Mallorca and Switzerland that could hold their own against any travelogue.

Suffice it to say the spycraft in The Night Manager is entertaining with a quirky subplot on the sad bureaucratic lives of government intelligence officers.  The first episode of “The Night Manager” was broadcast on April 16 and past episodes are available at www.amc.com