WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM JOY
The original screenplay for the movie Joy was written by Annie Mumolo, who co-wrote Bridesmaids with Kristen Wiig. Mumolo spent at least a year working on her script, meeting with, and researching the life story of, Miracle Mop creator Joy Mangano.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, executives at Fox 2000 felt Mumolo's script needed more character development. The project was offered to David O. Russell, the Academy Award nominated director and writer of films like American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook. Russell agreed to direct, but not before doing a complete rewrite of the script. So complete, in fact, the studio thought he deserved the sole writing credit on the film. But the Writers Guild disagreed, splitting the final credit to read "Story by Annie Mumolo and David O. Russell, Screenplay by David O. Russell."
Russell has said that his Joy is a composite of several female entrepreneurs, and her last name is never uttered in the film. But it's an incredible stretch to claim a movie centering on a woman named Joy who invents a self-wringing mop she sells on QVC is about anyone other than Joy Mangano.
According to a 2001 New York Times article, the real Mangano, a divorced Long Island mother of three, went into significant debt developing her mop, but never stopped believing in it. In 1992, she talked QVC into taking 1000 mops, but the network's on-air talent failed to move many units. Mangano insisted QVC let her try selling them on the air; when she finally got her shot, she sold 18,000 in twenty minutes.
By 2001, including other products she'd developed, Mangano's total retail sales added up to $200 million.
So it's a great story: Joy took a risk, faced some obstacles, never gave up, and eventually succeeded. For a movie, however, it seems somewhat thin. Dramatic license would need to be taken. Additional obstacles would have to be created.
What obstacles does Russell invent for Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) to overcome? First he gives her a crazy family. Then he has her create problems for herself by doing incredibly stupid things and making incredibly poor decisions. Russell's Joy takes actions no halfway intelligent person would take, let alone a brilliant inventor and businesswoman.
Here are some of the absurd things Russell's Joy does, as well as the complete legal and business gobbledygook Russell employs:
- After being told that an existing patent is similar to her mop, Joy never asks to see it herself. Instead she agrees to pay a "protection" royalty to the patent holder's representative. Nor does she suggest applying for her own patent, and letting the U.S. Patent Office decide if there's a conflict.
- Joy agrees to have her mop's parts manufactured 3000 miles away in a California plant that just so happens to be owned by that same representative.
- Joy apparently never has a contract with that manufacturer, because he keeps billing her unfairly and raising his prices. Yet she never thinks to find a new supplier.
- After demonstrating her mop for the head of QVC (Bradley Cooper), he asks her to make 50,000 of them by next week. Though it's never been tested, Joy agrees to take a second mortgage on her house and borrow $100,000 to fulfill the order.
- Once Joy starts pitching the mop on TV, sales skyrocket. But the parts manufacturer raises his prices again, meaning Joy loses money on every mop she sells. Joy's father (Robert De Niro) sends his daughter Peggy (Joy's half-sister) to California to make nice with the manufacturer. How Peggy can agree to terms for Joy or sign a business check is never explained.
- In California, Joy is arrested while trying to get her molds back. De Niro's new patent attorney tells Joy that because royalties were paid to the patent holder, all Joy's parts and molds are now under that patent, so she's out of luck. This is complete nonsense -- paying a royalty doesn't give the patent holder rights to your product; it merely compensates the patent holder for your use of the patent.
- De Niro tells Joy to declare bankruptcy, and that she'll have to move out of her house immediately. Though Joy's corporation shields her from personal liability, she signs the papers.
Joy tells him she called the actual patent holder in Hong Kong, discovering he'd never received any of her royalty payments from the Texan. Further, Joy finally looked at the Hong Kong patent, and what do you know, it's nothing like her mop. Joy demands the man refund twice her royalty payments, plus interest, and agree he has no rights to her product.
In other words, Russell's Joy finally does what anyone with a smidgen of sense would have done at the very beginning. And in so doing, she instantly solves all of her problems. Oh but wait, she demanded interest from the Texan -- that proves what a sharp businesswoman she is!
In 2015, we saw strong, coherent, true-life, true-character films like The Big Short, Black Mass, Bridge of Spies, Concussion, The Danish Girl, Legend, The Revenant, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton, Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and Woman in Gold.
Those screenwriters were able to take dramatic license without portraying real people as fantasy characters operating in fantasy worlds, yet still tell interesting, entertaining stories.
Did Annie Mumolo's original script do that, too? Or might a subsequent draft have done so, had she gotten some good feedback from those Fox 2000 executives? Unfortunately, we'll never know, because they chose to simply trash her screenplay so they could turn the story of Joy Mangano over to David O. Russell.