My friends and I have a monthly film club.
Our February hostess suggested we watch the film, Joy, written and directed by David O. Russell and starring Oscar winner, Jennifer Lawrence.
It was exciting for me to see how excited all the other women were to watch this film. I love it when women watch and support fellow women in entertainment. It's the only way we're ever going to get more stories about the female experience told onscreen.
That's particularly important because, besides providing entertainment value, stories provide direction and guidance in real life.
And I believed this particular film could provide all of the above for me.
After all, Joy is a success story about a female entrepreneur. What woman couldn't use a little more direction and guidance in business? We have so few female role models to learn from regarding success to Joy's magnitude.
I've also been yearning for a story to relate to that doesn't base a woman's happiness on her marital status but instead showcases how her life can be based, front and center, around loving what she does each and everyday.
I had planned to watch Joy in the theaters over the holidays but was unable to do so because of an unplanned move. So, as you can imagine, I was an immediate "yes vote" along with the rest of the club for this film being this month's selection.
Interestingly, Joy was our first movie pick where all of us unequivocally voted to watch the same movie.
But what was also interesting is none of us ended up loving it even though we are all women.
Now, Joy was a female-driven, success story about business that didn't revolve around a love story, which I liked a lot.
And I must admit something inside of me wanted to love it even more than before while I watched Joy's story unfold.
At the time, I didn't know anything about the real person named Joy that the film is based upon (i.e., Joy Mangano, the Miracle Mop inventor and entrepreneur now worth an estimated $50 million dollars).
While watching the film, I discovered I had some additional similarities with Joy - not only as a woman continually striving for success; but also as the most educated woman in a well-intentioned, often-meddling Italian family. Let's just say, I could identify with her challenges.
But I quickly experienced first hand that possessing and identifying similarities between yourself and the character isn't enough to make you connect with her story.
And I believe that lack of connection stems not from the screenplay or acting but from one decision Russell made as the director - to not age Lawrence's appearance throughout the film.
It felt really odd that despite the fact Lawrence plays a smart, middle-aged underachiever who hasn't lived up to her full potential due to life's overwhelming responsibilities for a majority of the film, she never looks a day over twenty-two years old.
This caused major confusion that didn't allow me to get carried away within the story. For example, it made it more difficult to follow the timeline because there was little to differentiate between the flashbacks of the young and carefree Joy and the current, struggling middle-aged Joy. She looked exactly the same except for her hair (I guess) became more tousled with age.
It also left me wondering how long she actually struggled for - was it for a couple years or was it for twenty years? Of course, the pay off in the end feels much more gratifying if she overcomes the latter.
I'm not saying Russell had to go all Mrs. Doubtfire on her but with his $60 million dollar budget, he should have ensured some make up and prosthetics to show subtle aging effects normal of a woman in her mid-thirties, which is eight years older than the rather youthful looking Lawrence.
(I had to Google search the actual Joy Mangano to figure out how old the actual character was supposed to be, by the way.)
Let's face it. If a woman's life is so tough and in such dire circumstances as Joy's was, it would show up somewhere on her face. After all the years of struggle, give me a frown line, something.
So, it's because of this, no matter how well Lawrence acted like a stressed out, broke single mom facing bankruptcy, her performance felt unbelievable as a middle-aged woman.
But no matter how compelling her performance tried to be, I never believed she struggled for years because her beautiful, fresh baby face gave her away.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Russell made such a terrible decision to not age Lawrence's character physically. Hollywood has built its business on sex appeal, which has traditionally meant women aren't even allowed to age.
But what I don't understand is that this film is not about sex - remember, it doesn't revolve around a love story. I thought it was supposed to be a story about business. I thought this was a story about a woman who lost herself and needed to find who she really was or lose everything.
But, despite the fact it's a female-driven, business success story, Joy unfortunately still panders to men and sexism in the end when Russell decided to veer away from what would best serve the story to keep Lawrence looking fresh and pretty.
Unfortunately, it's these same bad decisions that veer women away from purchasing movie tickets.
I know I'll think twice before I buy one for a David O. Russell film - especially when you're an actual hardworking, middle-aged woman striving for success against the odds and a $15 movie ticket could pay for your kid's lunch for a week.