Lucky McKee (May) Talks David O. Russell’s Joy

Yes, David O. Russell's new movie makes you feel overwhelmed, disoriented and somewhat confused. But that's exactly what it's trying to do to you.

I was introduced to the twisted soul of writer/director/actor Lucky McKee thanks to his first feature, the modern horror masterpiece May. That movie, a modern riff on the Frankenstein mythos, proved so potent the screening I was in had three walkouts, all for the right reasons (when you see the final act, you’ll know). Since then, Lucky has been on projects big and small, always bringing his wonderfully warped point of view to the macabre, from the gothic school-time horrors of The Woods, to the isolation of masculinity in his role in Roman (directed by frequent collaborator Angela Bettis) and most notably, the galvanizing, intense and breathtaking family horror drama The Woman, which was one of my favorite horror dramas in recent memory. Lucky is also a prolific writer, having collaborated frequently with acclaimed novelist Jack Ketchum, with whom he’s currently working on a new project. This past fall, Lucky’s contribution to the anthology Tales of Halloween continued to prove that he doesn’t play by traditional narrative rules, adding storytelling flourishes that always delight the eyes and excite the story. Lucky is also one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, which is particularly deceptive if you’ve seen how dark he tends to delve when it comes to his cinematic storytelling. – Joe Lynch, Talkhouse Film Guest Editor

When you begin watching David O. Russell’s Joy, you may feel overwhelmed, disoriented and a bit confused. This is not sloppiness. This is not indecisiveness on the filmmaker’s part. This is a portrait of a struggling woman’s life, and Russell has you exactly where he wants you, whether or not you realize it on your first viewing. My little write-up here may be a little disjointed, too, but it’s only because I’m feeding off the very specific energy of an outstanding film.

When Joy starts, we are immediately thrust into the memories and daily struggles of a young woman who’s hanging by a thread, feeling the weight and pressure of a family that is almost entirely dependent on her strength. A strength and reliability that everyone around her takes for granted in the most frustrating ways. As the film unfolds, we see Joy have an epiphany over some spilled wine. We don’t know exactly what this epiphany is – and again, that’s OK – but it leads to very strange behavior on Joy’s part. We are made to wonder: Has she lost it? Have all of life’s many pressures made her retreat into a kooky impossible idea? Is she falling in line with the craziness of those around her?


This woman has discovered a monumental untapped strength, wisdom and determination within herself that she just can’t deny any longer. One of those huge life epiphanies that all of us hope to discover inside ourselves one day. A revelation that may sound crazy and confusing and impossible at first, but will all become clear if those around her will just have a little faith. It’s all well and good to have these sorts of epiphanies, but if we don’t have the strength to follow through on them, they will never come true. Joy follows through and it’s a gorgeous thing to watch unfold.

It’s impossible to watch this film and not feel like it’s just as much about Jennifer Lawrence as it is about Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop. This is when filmmaking becomes pure and personal and I fucking love it. On the surface, Raging Bull may have been about the real life Jake LaMotta, but couldn’t a case also be made that it’s just as much about Scorsese’s dark battle with drugs and excess that directly preceded its making? This is sharing. This is an artist relating to you in the most personal way because that’s all they can do. It’s why I love cinema. It’s the type of film I try to make and it’s the type of film I seek out on a daily basis.

Joy is about a woman shaping her own destiny even when the odds are impossibly stacked against her. She could have been yanked around like a yo-yo by those around her, those that want to feed off her strength, but instead she puts her foot down and takes control of her own life, thereby making the people around her happier than they could ever have imagined. When you see the film, maybe you’ll feel a little of what I’m talking about.

This is a director in love with an actress. A director that admires the strength of a young woman determined to do things her way. All I ever hear or see about the real Jennifer Lawrence is that she’s amazing, strong, compassionate and funny as hell. Maybe it’s because she really is. David O. Russell certainly seems to think so, and it’s beautiful to see his respect and admiration on display here. He’s made a film that’s a thinly disguised love letter to someone who has changed his life in such a positive way. These two artists are elevating each other, making each other’s lives better. I really hope it never ends. I’ve had this sort of relationship with a handful of actors in my day and it’s such and empowering feeling. Such a joyous feeling.

In an age of superheroes, Joy is the sort of superwoman that we all have in our lives, but rarely appreciate as much as we should. It’s got rough edges, it’s disorienting, but by the end Joy finds this calm, peaceful, zen-like center that’s just as reassuring as it is inspiring. With Jennifer Lawrence and his current troupe of actors, David O. Russell has found his focus as well. He’s three movies deep with this tight-knit group of artists and all of us need to just sit back and enjoy the hell out of it while it lasts.

Lucky McKee is a writer-director best known for his work in the horror genre, such as the 2002 cult hit May, the 2006 schoolgirl chiller The Woods and the 2011 Sundance hit The Woman. He most recently contributed a segment to the 2015 anthology film Tales of Halloween. Also an actor, he played the lead role in the 2006 film Roman, directed by his regular collaborator Angela Bettis.