Mark Reviews Movies

Silver Linings Playbook


3 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: David O. Russell

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, John Ortiz, Chris Tucker, Shea Whigham, Anupam Kher, Julia Stiles, Brea Bee

MPAA Rating: R (for language and some sexual content/nudity)

Running Time: 2:02

Release Date: 11/16/12 (limited); 11/21/12 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 16, 2012

The point is clear: The person who wants to find happiness in everything will fail. It's inevitable, as not everything in life is a happy ending waiting to happen. We get a glimmer of the error of the newfound optimism of the protagonist of Silver Linings Playbook when he throws a hardcover copy of Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms through the closed window of his bedroom in his parents' attic. He enjoyed the novel up until the lovers are reunited; after that, well, he probably won't be reading any more Hemingway in the near future.

The act of defenestration is one thing; it's what follows that allows us to see how far gone Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is. Having gathered all the books on his English teacher wife's class syllabus, he has decided to read them all to prove to her that he is a changed man; this means day-long reading sessions. When he finishes Hemingway's story, it is 4 o'clock in the morning, and he needs someone to listen to him. The scene quickly changes to Pat stomping around his parents' bedroom, unsolicitedly explaining to them the plot of the story and why he believes that teaching such a book in high school doesn't help anyone. Life is hard enough, he argues; why should anyone read a novel to hear just how bad things can get?

Pat, in case you couldn't tell, suffers from bipolar disorder. At the start of the film, his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) arrives at the psychiatric hospital in Baltimore where he has been remanded after entering a plea bargain for assault charges. It's the only time—as far as we know and anyone is willing to admit—he's been physically violent after a lifetime of remaining undiagnosed with the mood disorder. The court-ordered period for his institutionalization has passed, though the doctors still believe Pat needs to stay to obtain treatment. Dolores ignores their concerns, seeming to have been counting down the days until she can reclaim her son.

When Pat returns home to Philadelphia, it's no wonder. His father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) is obsessed with the local professional football team. He has shelves of video tapes of games he's recorded over the years, as he's no longer allowed at games because of "explosive" episodes. He recently lost his job and now works as a bookie. Pat Sr.'s obsession has a compulsive element to it, too. Adjusting the remote controls on the table before the game starts may look like simple superstition, but Pat knows better.

Sadly, the son cannot recognize that trait in himself. Pat's obsession is his wife, who has moved out of their house and away to places unknown to him. She has a restraining order against her husband, and all of their mutual friends know better to help him communicate with her in any way, no matter how much he insists he has gotten better (He also has "explosions" like his father, such as whenever he hears Stevie Wonder sing "My Cherie Amour"). Every aspect of his life now revolves around whether or not it will help him win her back. No one seems to have the heart to bring up the obvious: She might not be worth winning back in the first place. Then again, it's not like he would listen to the advice.

The third person with obvious problems is Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the sister-in-law of one of Pat's friends. Her husband recently died, and she has reacted to the loss and the ensuing depression by reverting to her old, promiscuous ways. Pat's first meeting with Tiffany is as awkward as such an introduction can be; he readily admits he has no "filter" and immediately asks how her husband died, how she lost her job, and, again, about her husband. In spite or perhaps because of Pat's strange qualities (She doesn't have a filter, either), she wants to be friends with Pat—asking him if he wants to have sex with her; Pat is still too caught up in trying to fix his marriage to consider it at first. Tiffany begins following him on his daily runs (His wife always criticized him for his weight) and eventually says that she would be willing to give a letter to his wife.

Director David O. Russell's screenplay (based on the novel by Matthew Quick) very gradually reveals the extent of these characters' dysfunctional behavior and thinking. Russell avoids any and all snap judgments about them with the help of some astute performances and the empathy inherent in Pat and Tiffany's relationship. Cooper's role is subject to the most scrutiny, and he more than stands up to it. In the character's quieter, more reflective moments, his Pat is vulnerable yet always on the brink of a manic outburst; it's a genuinely sympathetic performance. Tiffany is, despite her outward appearance of openness, a mystery, at least in terms of her intentions regarding Pat. Lawrence finds the balance of an endearing playfulness, the worrisome possibility that her ulterior motive may be simply playing a joke on Pat, and a wounded core.

Russell's approach, which also forgoes any distinct formula for a preference to follow the characters' individual logical processes to their oftentimes odd conclusions (The film's climax involves a two-part bet and a dance competition, which somehow makes perfect sense by the time it arrives), is to embrace both a wicked sense of humor (most of it coming from the characters) and an all-encompassing sincerity to the characters' respective plights. Each new revelation or development presents them with a conceivable pitfall; they can only face them the best way they know how. For these characters, that's rarely an ideal prospect.

The climax might sound slightly generic on paper, but Russell's devotion to these characters guarantees that the stakes are far higher than the outcome of a dance competition. Silver Linings Playbook is, like its protagonist, hopelessly optimistic (The film's central conceit—that two people with emotional and psychological baggage can basically cure each other—is best left in the realm of cinematic fantasy), and it's a sign of the film's potency that we buy into it with our own sense of hopefulness.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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