'Joy' to the World: The True Story That Inspired the Biopic

Housewife turned inventor Joy Mangano built a business empire on the Miracle Mop, the inspiration for David O. Russell's new biopic, Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence.
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Jennifer Lawrence Photo

Jennifer Lawrence plays the title character in "Joy," a role which earned her a 2016 Golden Glove nomination. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

There wouldn’t seem to be much of a Hollywood biopic in the story of an ordinary housewife and her mop. But Joy Mangano is no ordinary housewife with a mop, and Joy, which opens Christmas Day, is no ordinary biopic. 

David O. Russell, who directed Jennifer Lawrence toward her Oscar in Silver Linings Playbook (2012), then gave her a colorful, Oscar-nominated supporting role in the fact-based American Hustle (2013), returns her to center stage in Joy. But his Joy, outnumbered in her decrepit family home by a relentlessly undermining father (Robert De Niro), a neurotic mother (Virginia Madsen) who languishes in bed and watches soap operas, and an ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) who fancies himself a lounge singer, is at her wit’s end, with meager prospects. Once, she fancied herself an inventor, making a safer fluorescent flea collar for pets as a child, but with no one other than her beloved grandmother (Diane Ladd) in her corner, Hartz eventually patented the idea. When inspiration strikes a second time, for a self-wringing mop, Joy is determined to make her dream come true. After convincing her father’s girlfriend, a wealthy, suspicious widow (Isabella Rossellini) to fund its development, and hiring a parts manufacturer to make the would-be revolutionary product, Joy, with the help of a can-do TV executive (Bradley Cooper), is able to place it on QVC, the home shopping channel he’s starting up. But her odyssey through entrepreneurship is only just beginning. It’ll take a miracle for the Miracle Mop to clean up several messes in Joy’s professional and personal life.

In an interview with Deadline.com, Russell said the Golden Globe-nominated film is “half fiction,” based in part on dozens of phone interviews he conducted with Mangano, which he said she likened to “psychoanalysis.” “I didn’t meet her until the very end,” he explained. “I wasn’t in a hurry to because I wanted to create what I wanted to create.” Likewise, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Lawrence said she didn’t want the “burden” of playing a real person, but added, “the craziest stuff in the story is true.”

Reinforcing its invented element, however, the character of Joy has no last name, and isn’t from Mangano’s native Smithtown, on the North Shore of Long Island, New York, where she’s a local legend. While Ladd incarnates the spirit of Mangano’s grandmother, Madsen’s quirky mom is made up, a composite of several people in the real Joy’s life, as are many of the film’s characters. The Miracle Mop is true (if also unnamed), as is the effect Mangano’s story had on the director. “My mother wanted to get back in the workforce after she raised a family, and she couldn’t and it was very unsettling for her,” Russell said. “So for Joy to have created her own business is something I respect enormously.”

Jennifer Lawrence Photo

Jennifer Lawrence as Joy working on her invention that would eventually clean up on QVC, selling 18,000 in 20 minutes when she pitched it to viewers. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Mangano was 34 when she made her prototype mop, in 1990 (Lawrence’s birth year). Divorced and raising three kids, she worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet, including airline reservation manager, as shown in the film. The mop was a flop when first broadcast on QVC, but Mangano’s personal touch saved the day when she herself pitched it to viewers in 1992, selling 18,000 in 20 minutes. (That’s Melissa Rivers playing mother Joan, the queen of QVC, in an amusing bit where she offers Joy a fashion tip.) Within a decade, Miracle Mops were bringing in $10 million a year, and Mangano had added to what she called her “mass appeal” empire with her Huggable Hangers, Forever Fragrant home odor products, and Performance Platforms shoes, just some of the more than 100 patents and trademarks she holds. Few of them made it into the movie, but chances are you have them in your home. “I’m a mom, I work, I have a house to clean, things to organize. We all have certain similar needs, and I address them,” she said.

Joy Mangano Photo

Joy Mangano (second from left) and her children Jacqueline Miranne, Christie Miranne and Robert Miranne attend the "Joy" premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre on December 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo: Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com)

After much half-fictional comedy-drama, giving Lawrence the chance to pull out all the movie star stops in the manner of Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Crawford, the movie wraps with Joy joining Home Shopping Network, and lending a helping hand to other budding entrepreneurs. Only suggested is Mangano’s massive success on HSN, where her hourly sales exceed $1 million. Two of her children now work for her company, Ingenious Designs, and her daughter Jackie Mirrane models and has her own site, JackieAtHome.com. Mixed in with red carpet photo ops with Lawrence and Cooper, you can find lots of kid pix on her Facebook page, which is celebrating “25 Days of Joy.” “I knew in my heart that the Miracle Mop would make people’s lives a little better,” she recently recalled. “So I took my idea everywhere I could, and I told everyone who would listen. I believed in it, and I knew deep down they would too.” 

Joy opens in theaters on December 25th.