Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

By Brandon Bastaldo

We Must Be Crazy

For a film written and directed by a guy who nearly got in a fist fight with George Clooney, it’s not surprising that David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook has to do with mental health issues. I don’t say this because Russell, director of Three Kings and The Fighter, doesn’t  know how to throw a punch. Rather, its because a scratch on Clooney would no doubt result in his crack squad of legal commandos leaving Russell barefoot in his boxers, standing in the outline of where his foreclosed mansion used to tower.

Silver Linings Playbook– based on a novel by Matthew Quick–is a fresh and endearing introspection into the fascinatingly-erratic thought process of someone suffering from a Bipolar disorder. But at the same time, this movie is just  as much about the ‘sweep-it-under-the-rug’ avoidance tactics people apply to ‘icky’, dinner party unmentionables like mood disorders and office party gang bangs. It’s too bad that the film drastically fails the Rorschach test when it wanes into a clichéd, ‘kiss me in the rain’ kind of rom com that becomes progressively devoid of the sardonic humour of its first half.

Winner of the People’s Choice Award at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival and already an early contender for the 84th Academy Awards, it might be a good idea for those thoroughly pleased with Silver Linings Playbook’s lazy and complacent conclusion to reassess their own sanity.

The Plot

Pat (Cooper) is a bi-polar ex-teacher serving an eight month court mandated sentence in a state institution. Focused on positive thinking and exercise, Pat is released into the care of his parents with nothing but a suitcase, a Hemingway book and his own neurosis. Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) is an obsessive compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan with a knack for gambling and who’s banned from John F. Kennedy stadium for his own drunken/ likely Bipolar antics which in another era were easily dismissed. Pat’s mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) is a sweet but enabling woman who lives for her sons, husband and The Eagles. As Pat struggles to control his flash temper, he finds it impossible to lie to himself like so many of those around him and instead finds solace in Tiffany (Lawrence): an abrasive, beautiful young woman hounded by her own demons. After entering themselves in a dance competition, Pat learns to persevere and channel his energy into positivity, while his self-appointed teacher Tiffany battles to find out if she can do the same.

The Message

Silver Linings Playbook takes a novel approach to letting us in Pat’s 0-100 psyche: hearing Pat speak to himself in an epistolary fashion gives this movie a Catcher in the Rye kind of vibe, where we hear our protagonist’s unabashed thoughts delivered with a undistilled,  childlike innocence. Really, this entry point into the world of psychosis for those unfamiliar is not just good filmmaking; it’s ingenious.

Russell uses Pat like an unfiltered lens to point out the ludicrous social customs and expectations we’re expected to perform on a daily basis. Pat is invited over to his old buddy Ronnie’s (John Ortiz) house, where his wife Veronica (Julia Styles) reluctantly makes dinner. Clad like a knight in douche armor, Pat wears his favourite Eagles Jersey and is chastised by Veronica for his ‘inappropriate’ dress and his frank and blunt remarks at the dinner table.

But as Ronnie privately tells Pat that he is borderline suicidal under the stress of his unborn son, or seeing Veronica’s strong willed psyche quickly eroded by her sister Tiffany’s outlandish behaviour, or even the hearing senile banter of Pat Sr. and Pat’s mother; Silver Linings Playbook comically invites us to trash our predispositions about who, in this crazy world of ours, can be rightfully deemed a ‘looney’ or sane.

Yes Lawrence, Cooper and Chris Tucker—in his first non Rush Hour role since 1997 –exhibit some of their best work in this movie, bulldozing their way outside of their thespian comfort zones to collectively generate the dark badinage that initially makes this film discuss a great idea: that every horrible, destitute situation in our lives has a ‘silver lining’.

Pat’s letters and journal entries about winning back his cheating ex-wife read like unbelievable fantasies—unrealistic imaginings that we’ve all caught ourselves making sooner or later in tough situations. It’s from these delusions that Silver Linings Playbook brandishes its mantra that while stressful dilemmas can get the best of us all at times, the solutions cannot—and should not– always be predicated and meticulously planned, cause lets face it: they never turn out like how we imagine.

So when third act of the movie rolls around, and Pat actually attends the dancing competition with Tiffany– which Pat Sr. bets on to win back all of his hefty losses needed to start his new business– only to finally have Pat save the day and kiss the girl at the end, I was beginning to expect a letterman clad teenager to pop up, drop his back pack and start the ritualistic cheesy scene slow clap.

Russell shows he’s nearly capable of doing the impossible by unpacking the intricate and deeply personal emotions we all go through while in crisis, but Silver Linings Playbook lets its conclusion fall by the wayside in search of a tidy, lustrous ending that grates against every smooth grain the movie polished out of its course subject matter. It leaves you wondering when exactly did Russell ditch the The Old Man and the Sea to pick up a copy of Twilight?

@brandonbastaldo

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