JOY JOY NAILS, by writer and director Joey Ally, was a stand out at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival for its stylish delivery of a perspective which in large part goes unnoticed by the American population. Disguised in the classic framework of popular girl versus unpopular girl, Ally’s intimate exploration of powerless undocumented workers, racial caste systems, and unjustly compromised female experiences unfold behind the facade of one suburb’s most trendy salon. When Korean manager Sarah suspects Chinese new-hire Mia of being after the boss’ son’s affections, her inner mean girl comes out, only to discover that everyone’s a victim at JOY JOY NAILS.
Beyond its lush neon pink styling, pop music, and pretty smiles, you’ll experience the same mirage as the film’s protagonist as the salon’s carefully crafted illusion falls away to reveal something much more sinister under the varnish. The way in which Ally portrays girl culture and the camaraderie and hierarchy between females, makes her story universally relatable to the point that you forget the character’s experiences are anything but.
The film itself is utter eye candy in its duplicity and it’s remarkable how Ally so subtly lays hints throughout the film to suggest the problematic social and cultural injustices. Not only do we witness the Korean girls ostracizing the Chinese trainee, Ally forces her audience to participate by including Korean subtitles and excluding her Chinese character’s language with a simple “Mandarin” in parenthesis. While brilliantly crafted, it certainly leaves a sour taste in your mouth and a lump in your stomach the more the film carries on.
Ally’s inspiration for JOY JOY NAILS came after reading a series of articles about the nail salon industry, including the Pulitzer Prize nominated New York Times expose’ Unvarnished. What she discovered thereafter was indentured labor in salons just like the ones she frequented when growing up in Connecticut, and living in Manhattan as an adult. Her mission to help people connect more and see themselves in each other absolutely shined in how she lets her audience spend time with the characters. As we witness the salon workers interact, eat, sleep, laugh and worry, we can’t help but grow a deep intimacy for them. JOY JOY NAILS will move you and unsurprisingly open your eyes that much wider.
JOY JOY NAILS was made as part of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women and screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, AFI Fest, Seattle International Film Festival, Palm Springs International Short Fest, and Lunafest. Ally is currently writing a feature film with her sister Catie called Let’s Not Get Crazy which she did as part of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.