“The American” (Joika) is an intense drama film that follows a young American ballerina’s tumultuous journey to be accepted in an infamously strict dance academy in Russia. It is based on the true story of Joy Womack, who traveled from Texas to Bolshoi with the same aspiration. James Napier Robertson (The Dark Horse, Whina) wrote & directed this film like a psychological thriller, similar to Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Talia Ryder, who was recently seen in The Sweet East & Dumb Money, stars in a central role along with Diane Kruger, known for her work in Inglourious Basterds and In the Fade among other films.

Spoilers Ahead

The American (Joika, 2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

“The American” (Alternate title: Joika) is based on the true story of Joy Womack, an American ballet dancer who moved from Texas to Moscow at the age of fifteen to receive recognition from a renowned company in Russia. Joy is one of the only Americans to get the honor of being a part of the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet. The film follows her coming-of-age journey in a punishing, cutthroat environment as she experiences a wide range of emotions.

What happens in ‘The American’ (Joika)?

“The American” (Joika) follows Joy Womack (Talia Ryder), a child prodigy from Texas who aspires to join the Moscow Bolshoi Academy and be their Prima Ballerina. Her parents always supported her passions and raised her in a loving environment. But at just fifteen years of age, she moves to Moscow after being selected at the Bolshoi Academy. She imagines her peers will be as friendly and supportive as in America. But the reality hits her the day she steps into her class. The other dancers are hostile toward her because of her nationality and because she is their direct competitor.

The ballet teacher & the academy director, Tatiyana Volkova (Diane Kruger), isn’t caring & supporting either. She doesn’t acknowledge Joy’s talent and, like others, keeps calling her ‘the American.’ Joy overlooks their hostility. However, she doesn’t want her parents to see her in that state. Perhaps she believes their sympathy will make her question her ambition. So, she doesn’t respond to any of their calls. Around this time, Joy happens to notice the class of male ballerinas. She gets charmed by Nikolay Lebedev (Oleg Ivenko) and befriends him. He makes her see the truth about their academy: the selection is not based on talent but on their political motives.

Joy’s Journey

Joy starts to realize the obstacles in her path to reach the next stage in the Bolshoi Academy. Nikolay tells her that Tatiana doesn’t have control over how someone gets selected. Because of the politics ingrained in their academy, He suggests Joy should win over Tatiana’s confidence to achieve her goal in ballet. Soon after, Tatiana selects five other students even though Joy scored higher than a few of those. So, she barges into Tatiana’s office and demands a position. Tatiana says the reason Joy isn’t selected is because she dances like an American, not a Russian.

Joy asks for another opportunity to get selected for the next stage. If she cannot impress Tatiana, she agrees to return to the US. However, the next day, she wins over Tatiana’s confidence and replaces another dancer, even at the cost of some bleeding and muscle damage. Soon after, she spends a night roaming around with Nikolay and returns late. Her classmate misplaces her alarm clock. So, Joy arrives late to her rehearsal. Tatiyana believes Joy lacks the necessary seriousness for her position and doesn’t give her the golden chance she was looking for.

The Final Spot

For a later selection process, Vitaliy Ivanov (Tomasz Kot) sees the Russian ballerinas’ performances but doesn’t get impressed by them. Tatiyana looks at it as her personal failure. So, at the last minute, she tells Joy to take center stage. To her surprise, Joy impresses Vitaliy and gets an outstanding score. Despite that, they don’t select her just because she is not Russian. So, on a whim, she asks Nikolay to marry her to be a Russian. After some thought, he agrees. After they get married, she gets selected for the final spot meant for a ballerina.

The American (2023) Movie Review & Ending Explained
A still from “The American” (2023)

However, Joy’s difficulties don’t end there. Her parents arrive in Moscow the same day she gets married. They are surprised by her transformed personality and worry for her. Joy’s mother, Eleanor (Natasha Alderslade), tries to convince her to annul her marriage & return home. But Joy chooses her life in Russia over her home out of her passion for ballet. Gradually, Joy starts realizing the harsh reality of adult life as a dancer. She realizes that the company pays her less than a cleaner. Besides, Vitaliy doesn’t favor her for any new roles. It leads her on a self-destructive path.

The American (Joika, 2023) Movie Ending Explained:

Does Joy achieve her goal of being a Prima Ballerina?

Due to Joy’s impulsive actions to achieve success, she gets called ‘the traitor’ by a local newspaper. It maligns her image in the eyes of Russians. So, she loses her position in the Bolshoi company. It also affects the lives of Nikolay & his mother. Nikolay is at the risk of losing his job because of Joy’s actions. So, he tells Joy to move to another place to retain his position. Joy starts working as a cleaner to make a living. Soon after, Tatiyana offers her a chance to dance again. Like Joy, Tatiyana was also discriminated against by the Bolshoi Academy. So, with Joy, she wants to settle the scores right. Joy accepts Tatiyana’s offer to dance for her at the international ballet competition in Varna against the Bolshoi.

In the gathering before the competition, Joy meets her ballet idol, Natalia Osipova in person but has only a brief conversation with her. Finally, Joy gets up on the stage for her performance, which can make or break her career. Eleanor also reaches backstage to witness it in person. During her performance, Joy suffers an injury on her foot. The doctor says that it can be fatal if she goes back to perform. Eleanor advises her to return to the safety and comfort of home. But Joy disagrees and returns to the stage. Joy performs on stage despite her injury and wins the silver prize at the competition. Later that year, she became a Prima Ballerina. However, she never danced with the Bolshoi ever again.

The American (Joika, 2023) Movie Review:

“The American” (Joika) follows the true-life story of an American ballerina who aspired to be a part of a revered ballet academy in Russia. From the warmth of her home in America, she gets pushed into the cold and unforgiving world of an elite Russian academy. She comes from a family that supports her passions and cares for her mental health, which is the polar opposite of the treatment she receives in Russia. So, it puts an additional emotional burden on her. The film explores this biological drama about a fish out of water, like a psychological thriller. It portrays the harshness of Joy’s reality and her downhill journey into madness and chaos due to things beyond her control.

The film repeats how Joy couldn’t receive a respectable position in their academy because of her non-Russian identity. But it doesn’t disclose or delve deeper into the reasons behind their disdain toward the Americans. The repetition of this aspect creates a tense atmosphere for the protagonist, who gets constantly rejected in her new world. But it serves only as a narrative device and nothing more. That’s not the only part of the film’s script that feels undercooked.

The Script

The screenplay feels like a collection of events in Joy’s life without the exploration of reasons behind them. So, it loses the opportunity to offer a critique on a larger scale. Regardless, the film is evocative as a taut psychological drama anchored by Talia Ryder’s strong, assured performance. Besides the careful attention to a ballerina’s body language, posture, and mannerisms, Talia strikes a chord as a young woman stuck in a nightmare despite having the necessary chops to succeed. She embodies Joy’s frustration, passion, and loss of innocence incredibly well. The film has enough scenes that will make you squirm. Talia’s dedicated performance makes you notice the pain and discomfort behind her passion and determination.

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The American (Joika, 2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Mubi
Cast of The American (Joika, 2023) Movie: Talia Ryder, Diane Kruger, Natasha Alderslade, Oleg Ivenko, Natalia Osipova, Charlotte Ubben, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Karolina Gruszka, Martin Hugh Henley, Artur Shesteriskov, Erica Horwood, Leonie Hansen, Tamila Dudnik, Leonie Hansen, Martyna Wezensinska, Wronika Juchimiuk, Julia Bielska, Zuzanna Burak
The American (Joika, 2023) Movie Genre: Drama/Mystery & Thriller | Runtime: 1h 50m
Where to watch The American

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