On Topic: The joy of business

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The movie “Joy” is chockablock with metaphors for business.

“Sailing in winter is the best preparation for life in commerce,” is one. Another is, when an adversary blocks your path to success, “Do you pick up the gun?” — meaning, presumably, will you do whatever it takes.

“Joy” arrived in movie theaters only a couple weeks after “The Big Short.” It plays more to the emotions than does the witty — and much better made — movie about the housing market. (We talked about “The Big Short,” remember, in my Jan. 3 column. You can see that here.)

It’s a highly fictionalized account of the real-life Joy Mangano, patent holder and inventor of 100 household products, including the Miracle Mop (the kind with the plastic tube you slide down the pole to wring out the mop without getting your hands wet) and Huggable Hangers (kitted out in a fabric that keeps your clothes from sliding off). Mangano, according to Time magazine, is worth about a $50 million today.

But no last names for the Manganos are used in the movie, which probably is because, among reasons, her fictional family is truly nasty. Her jealous half-sister tries to sabotage Joy’s deals, directly or indirectly; her soap-opera-addicted mother is a lost cause to the real world; and her father is considerably less than a paragon of support — as a parent or a business mentor.

About three-quarters of the way into the picture, when Joy has to declare bankruptcy and her partners line up to remind her they warned her failure was her fate, her dad, played by Robert DeNiro (who seems suddenly to have remembered after all these years that he used to be an honest-to-goodness actor), claims the disaster is his fault: “I gave her the confidence to think that she’s more than just an unemployed housewife,” he says.

You just want to sock him.

To make certain we get the point, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” runs in the background music.

The astonishing Jennifer Lawrence plays the protagonist as a saint, but one apparently with steel for a backbone. In the midst of the drumbeats of doom from her family, Joy also absorbs the more uplifting advice from Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), an amalgam of various execs from the very early days of QVC, the home-shopping TV channel:

Management advice: “You have to tell people things 10 times.”

Remaining open to the possibilities: “I believe the ordinary meets the extraordinary every single day.”

Joy even turns that entrepreneurial optimism back on Walker after an on-air salesman has blundered the Miracle Mop’s first TV appearance. She recaps a speech he made to her at their first meeting, about how movie producer David O. Selznick, “the son of immigrants,” marrying Jennifer Jones, “an all-American girl,” exemplifies America as land the opportunity.

“You said that,” she reminds him.

Walker agrees to let Joy go in front of live cameras to demonstrate her invention, to great success. (The real-world Mangano sold some 18,000 mops in 20 minutes her first time on air.)

Joy faces down several other travails, along the way picking up the unsubtle gesture of pointing her index finger as if her hand were a gun.

“Joy,” if anything, is a testimony for tenacity.

“Do you pick up the gun, Joy?” she is asked by a potential mop investor.

“I pick up the gun,” our hero answers after only the slightest of pauses.

l Michael Chevy Castranova is enterprise and Sunday business editor of The Gazette. (319) 398-5873; michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com

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