wander the sea

Short Film: Joy Joy Nails


The scene opens with a couple of girls smoking and gossiping, as they wait for a car to pick them up. One of them mentions that Sarah has moved up to be the front girl, since the previous girl was fired. Sarah says she deserves it, since she has been working there for a long time. Sarah stands on the corner smoking with her makeup all done up and dressed to fit the part of the boss, unlike the other girls who are a little more casual, but still rocking bright red lipstick. They won’t miss the ex front desk girl, since she treated them unfairly. With those first lines of dialogue, it’s implied that the rest of the girls have inferior parts to play in the nail salon. They also talk about a handsome guy who works there, the son of the nail salon owner. Sarah jokes that he likes her face. Behind them, the sullen expression of a tall girl appears wearing drab colors. “It’s fresh off the boat,” says Sarah, laughing. She talks about the new trainee in Korean, saying “she probably still gets her clothes from China.” They all ride out in a white van to the nail salon. It appears they’re heading to New Jersey, as the car passes suburban homes and mansions. The girls spend the rest of their afternoon in the salon.

In Joy Joy Nails there’s a flow of scenes depicting traffic, people walking, stores with Chinese symbols and juxtapositions familiar to Flushing, New York. The salon has a hue of pinks that overwhelms the screen. The shelves are filled with an array of nail polish colors like a field of flowers. Sarah’s pink lipstick radiates as she walks around smiling, observing the other girl, saying hello to customers, and keeping things organized and clean. Though Sarah has a cheerful personality, but she’s also childish and vindictive. The salon has a feeling of girlishness, but also an insincere, sugary and sterile environment.

Short film have always been intriguing to me, since they capture so much in a short span of time. Keeping things short and tidy, make Joy Joy Nails, which is under 20 minutes poignant and heartfelt. It also touched on important subjects: female relationships, female/male power dynamics, gender roles, new immigrants vs. older one.

The guy who the girls were swooning over in the beginning turns out to be an asshole. Though the Sarah has her eyes set on him, he starts checking out the new girl, who works in the back. Sarah notices, but doesn’t think anything of it, until she sees them going to the massage room together. The guy tells her, he is going to look for an earing a customer lost, and take Mia with him. Sarah spies on them through the security camera in the front. Sarah sees that both of them come out a while later. She automatically assumes Mia has an interest in the guy. Sarah confronts Mia later in the day after finding the earring herself in the massage room. Mia breaks out in tears and Sarah realizes that something worse has occurred to her. Of course she never really says it, but by her gestures we can tell something awful happen to Mia in the massage room. Later that night, Sarah buys Plan B, and then gives it to Mia the next day. She also gives her a deposit and a new job address some place else. Back at the nail salon, she tells the creepy guy that she fired Mia, but doesn’t fully explain why, but hints at the fact that she knows what happen, and asks him to pay for some extra materials out of his own pocket. She also plans to take the day off. He begrudgingly accepts the arrangement, but acknowledges that he has no choice, otherwise Sarah will go to his parents, and tell them what he did. The film leaves off with Sarah giving a side smile.

It was especially juvenile for Sarah to make a big deal about the guy in the first place and scream at Mia. After knowing the truth, it was clear Sarah felt shitty, so she helped Mia and gave her info for a new job, but the perpetrator was simply given a hand slap. Sarah also could not risk losing her job, by making a bigger deal out of this incident, so she decides on a convenient solution for her and the new girl. At least Mia will no longer be forced to go to work with this sick guy around. Sarah is no longer as naïve as she was before, now knowing the asshole she’s working with.

The director was able to create scenes with tension and drama. Even though some scenes are in another language, I was able to connect with them, and they weren’t overly long, so as not to bore the audience since sometime there were no subtitles. My favorite scene is still the one with all the girls waiting for the van as they are gossiping. In the next we see the main girl take on her role as the boss, by telling one of the girls not to wear her necklace. There’s also a scene where she’s intently looking at herself at a bathroom mirror, brushing her hair and getting ready for the day, as someone knocks. It cuts to the next morning, when the sun is not fully out yet, and Sarah walks to meet Sarah behind a store, so as no one will hear their conversation.

It’s infuriating how much these two women have to cover for this careless, half-brained guy. It’s clear how much power he holds as the son of the nail salon owner. He was able to prey on a vulnerable person, who’s new to the country and speaks little English. Sarah realizes her own power, even if small, she can wield some of it, after knowing this secret. But, she cannot go as far as firing him.


You can watch the film through the New Yorker channel, below:

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