Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)


Pat (Bradley Cooper) does not handle stress in a manner acceptable to society.  When he unexpectedly comes home from work and discovers his wife in the shower with a co-worker, he beats the guy almost to death.  His plea agreement with the courts sends him to a mental institution where they determine him to have an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder.  Pat accepts the diagnosis; it explains aspects of his personality and better yet, he can use it as an excuse to convince his wife to come back to him, or at the very least drop the restraining order.  Pat experienced a few delusions in the past but now that his mom has signed him out of the institution, his most persistent delusion may be the idea that his version of self-betterment will make his wife want come home.

His parents (Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver) are lower class native Philadelphians whose lives revolve around the weekly Sunday football game and the idea of opening a philly cheesesteak restaurant.  They are getting on in years and the last thing their small and stifling household needs is their adult son holed up in the attic, refusing to take his meds, and throwing A Farewell to Arms out of the window because he disagrees with the ending.  Pat and Pat Sr. are not very close and there is a sense that Pat Sr. was not the most supportive and nurturing father in Pat's younger years.  He is banned from the football stadium because he is considered too violent to be in the stands and that is a really telling sign considering the average Eagle fan.  The only way he knows how to talk to his son now are through Philadelphia Eagle football metaphors, which as a fledgling bookie, means more to him than just supporting the home team, it is his financial means to the cheesesteak restaurant ends.    

Watch the preview and you will think Silver Linings Playbook is a witty comedy morphing into romance.  Hidden just below the surface though is a film circling around a mostly normal guy whose stressors trigger real mental trauma.  It doesn't help that his friends are also eyeing him in a new light.  His best friend, Ronnie (John Ortiz), is glad to have Pat back but his wife, Veronica (Julia Stiles), is far more skeptical.  Plus, Veronica's sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), is also sliding back on forth on the mental wellness scale.  She is a very young widow now that her cop husband recently died.  Tiffany discovers a sort of kindred spirit in Pat.  They are both considered broken by those around them.  Also, people who are treated as or indeed feel crazy find more comfort amongst others like them instead of with those folks labelled normal and functioning.

Pat is oblivious to these easily gleaned insights though.  He is solely focused on his wife and their marriage which he has placed on an extremely lofty and unrealistic pedestal.  In his eyes, he is the normal one and Tiffany is the one who is clearly nuts and who makes him uncomfortable with her accurate questions about what is going on in his head.  Tiffany made some poor choices following her husband's death; however, she is much more self aware than wayward Pat.   

David O. Russell wrote and directed Silver Linings Playbook and is his first film since his success with The Fighter (2010).  The obvious similarities between the two films are their northeast location, lower class atmosphere, and some family drama although The Fighter wins hands down on who is the most dysfunctional.  Pat is less like Micky Ward and falls more on the Dicky Eklund side of the aisle.  His anger is real and finding ways to control it during tense situations is not coming easy to him.  Pat noticeably feels better around Tiffany though.  He considers her annoying and intrusive but also understanding and as someone he can actually count on which seems like a rare commodity now that he is marked as a guy just out of the 'hospital'.  The most likable parts of the film are when Pat and Tiffany are together talking through their respective problems.  

There are also some surprise supporting actors not seen very often on the big screen anymore who pop up.  Chris Tucker plays Danny, Pat's friend from the hospital, and Julia Stiles is a welcome presence even though her character is not supposed to be too pleasant.  Why are Chris Tucker sightings so few and far between?  His work in The Fifth Element and Friday still brings smiles to those of us who have fond memories of those movies.  Also, Jackie Weaver as Pat's mom completely overshadows poor Robert De Niro who seems to be in the same role he played in Everybody's Fine (2009).  Jackie Weaver earned an Oscar nomination for her role in Animal Kingdom (2010) and she has lost none of the intensity required to be the matriarch of a complicated family.   

Silver Linings Playbook won multiple festival awards, mostly from the People's Choice category and even at the prestigious Toronto festival.  These nominations will probably not hold up though to the more serious year end awards.  The screenplay is creative and the performances are memorable; however, it lacks a certain depth and realism which Pat's disorder will sooner or later require.  It swims for too long in the shallower end of the comedy pool when it should take a turn for deeper and more dramatic waters.  In the end, Silver Linings Playbook is mostly enjoyable and it gives us a chance to see Chris Tucker again.  

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