Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Mitchell
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles. Directed by David O. Russell.

When someone does something outrageous and funny, is it still funny if the reason he’s doing it is a mental illness? How about if everyone in the room is aware of his illness, and knows that at any moment funny can turn to violent? Based on the reactions of my fellow audience members, the answer is yes. In an early scene, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) reads Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and, frustrated by the way it ends, flings it through a closed bedroom window to the lawn outside. Needing someone to discuss his frustration with, he barges in on his sleeping parents and rails against the writer and novel.

It’s funny when it’s just a book and a glass window. But what if it’s a person who sets him off? I found myself squirmy with discomfort and sympathy for the character, who is sure he’s almost-almost-almost got his condition under control, and if the wife who has left him can only see how far he’s come, he knows he will finally have it all together. If only it weren’t for that restraining order. And if only people didn’t keep provoking him. If only, if only, if only.

Invited to dine with friends one Sunday night, Pat is introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany’s husband has recently died, and dinner conversation is awkward until Tiffany and Pat find some common ground: they’ve each taken several of the same medications with similar side effects. It’s the beginning of a weird relationship with an uncomfortable dynamic. Tiffany isn’t so much recovering from her husband’s death as from the recovery process following her husband’s death, her life a huge vacuum devoid of intimacy she craves. Pat agrees to be Tiffany’s partner in a dance contest, possibly to help Tiffany with this vacuum. Tiffany agrees to pass along a letter from Pat to his estranged wife. They’re using each other, and someone in the agreement is getting the short end of the stick, ‘though at times it’s difficult to tell which.

The acting in this film is really good. Cooper reminds me of a caged panther, restless and volatile when confined in small spaces (a doctor’s office, his parents’ living room, his friends’ dining room) but somewhat more at ease when given bigger spaces with fewer people (a dance studio, the streets of his neighborhood). It’s a very physical performance he gives, but it might be easy to miss the physicality because so much of his character’s torment is coming from within. Lawrence, too, seems like two different characters: impatient and acidic in groups but vulnerable and sincere when alone with Pat. Sometimes when actors are forced to turn their characters’ moods on a dime, they leave the audience behind with a kind of “Where did THAT come from?” effect. That doesn’t happen in Silver Linings Playbook. The film does a good job of establishing these characters and the actors are great at making it work.

And both actors just look fantastic.

The one thing that doesn’t quite work for me is the family dynamic, and I can’t figure out why. Robert De Niro as Pat’s father and Jacki Weaver as his mother give it a good shot. De Niro is better than I’ve seen him in a long time, but something just fits poorly in the whole family subplot.

What this film really needs is more Cooper and Lawrence, and just a little bit less of everyone else. The too-large cast of characters comes together for a fun but too-quick, too-tidy resolution that makes your heart feel good but leaves your brain slightly unsatisfied. Strong performances from the lead actors mostly forgive that, and their story is interesting enough that I’d kind of like to see another movie with the same characters, with the ending of this film as its beginning.

PS: I’d like to deduct points for an awful title, but I don’t think that’s really fair.

8/10
83/100

10 Responses to “Silver Linings Playbook (2012)”


  1. Reid

    (I haven’t read Mitchell’s review, but I will after I write this.)

    78/100

    I think Don has a good chance of liking this–at least a three and a good shot at a four. I would recommend this to him. I’m almost sure Jill will like this quite a bit, too. Penny and Larri are close behind, and I’d probably recommend this to Joel, too. I’m not sure about Grace, but I’d guess she would like this. I’m even less sure about Chris and Kevin, but I’d guess they would enjoy this.

    **
    I assume Mitchell has given a general description of the film, so I won’t do that. (Plus, it’s not easy to describe.)

    I will say that I’m pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed this. I really liked the performances of Cooper and Lawrence. They seemed like emotionally disturbed people, but not necessarily crazy, and that was perfect.

    If Mitchell didn’t think I would like this film, I wouldn’t blame him. There are things about the film that probably wouldn’t work for me nine out of ten times. But for some reason, the film worked. (I think the scene after the Giants and Eagles game really won me over. This is also the scene I can see Don really liking.)

    ***
    I must say that the movie threw me off, maybe even disoriented me, if that’s the right word. Initially, it felt like a indy drama-comedy, but then it morphed into a Hollywood rom-com. The film–in terms of the cinematography, acting and score–just seemed to gray and not sunny and light enough to be a comedy. You had those odd, claustrophobic close-up and spiraling camera (ostensibly to indicate the main character’s inner turmoil?), something you wouldn’t see in a Hollywood rom-com. Cooper being effective as a disturbed and violent person and the presence of Robert De Niro also had me anticipating something darker and more serious. So from the post-game scene until the ending, I was a bit surprised. It felt like a different movie from the first half. (When Tiffany is upset that Nikki shows up at the dance, I wasn’t sure why she was mad–I didn’t realize that she was in love with Pat!)

    So why did I like this? I don’t know. De Niro’s performance was mixed to me. He had some good moments and some so-so ones. Something was missing. (I think there are flaws in the film, parts that didn’t work so well, but I’m not sure what those are at the moment.) Still, I sort of liked his relationship with Pat, especially towards the ending. And I liked both Pat and Tiffany, although in retrospect, the film didn’t seem to really develop their relationship. Thinking about it more, I’m not sure why I liked the film as much as I did. But there you go.

  2. Mitchell

    I’m extremely surprised.

  3. Reid

    The one thing that doesn’t quite work for me is the family dynamic, and I can’t figure out why. Robert De Niro as Pat’s father and Jacki Weaver as his mother give it a good shot. De Niro is better than I’ve seen him in a long time, but something just fits poorly in the whole family subplot.

    I agree with this. Having more time to think about the film, I think the problem is that the film tries to combine an indy, character drama (the first half) with a conventional Hollywood rom-com (the second half starting with the Giants-Eagles game). In the first half, the film suggests an arc that will involve some serious conflict and resolution between Pat and his family, with Tiffany being involved some how. I anticipated the film to explore some dark territory (It’s Robert De Niro, after all, and Cooper’s volcano-under-the-surface performance suggested as much as well.) We hear about the father’s anger management issues and clearly Pat has some of the same things. This seems important, but it turns out not to be.

    Then there are questions about Pat’s relationship with his dad. Remember the scene where the father explains the reason he wants Pat to watch the games with him? That was a bit confusing and felt a little false, too. The film plays up the father’s superstition as something a bit whimsical, not something serious. I thought he was genuinely believed that Pat brought good luck and this was the primary reason he wanted Pat to watch the games with him. Of course, both could have motivated the father, but De Niro didn’t convey this well, in my opinion.

    The father mentions something about spending too much time with his brother. That felt tacked on. (The relationship with the brother seemed odd, too, and out of place.)

    What this film really needs is more Cooper and Lawrence, and just a little bit less of everyone else. The too-large cast of characters comes together for a fun but too-quick, too-tidy resolution that makes your heart feel good but leaves your brain slightly unsatisfied. Strong performances from the lead actors mostly forgive that,…

    Again, I really agree with this. I think we need more Cooper and Lawrence if the film wants the romance to work. They really don’t show them developing a relationship. I feel like the psychological issues sort of got in the way of that, too–as I expected the film to address the issues and how it related to Pat’s family a little more. But the film seems to forget all about those issues. (Pat’s problems seem to magically disappear. Is he basically a normal person who has minor anger management issues, or something a little serious than that? Initially, I thought it was the latter.)

    PS: I’d like to deduct points for an awful title…

    Yep. That’s gotta be one of the worst titles I’ve heard for a long time (at least for a good movie).

  4. Mitchell

    We’re really close on this one. I think the five-point ratings difference comes mostly from my fondness for Lawrence.

  5. Reid

    I also think Jennifer Lawrence’s character could have been developed a bit more, particularly the significance of dancing for her character. The film alludes to black sheep syndrome with her sister, but doesn’t really flesh this out much. (The film puts out something similar with Pat’s brother, but then seems to lose interest in this.)

  6. Arlyn

    I was also surprised I liked the film as much as I did. I was expecting to be moved by Lawrence since I know what she’s capable of, impressed by her performance in Winter’s Bone but I wasn’t expecting to be moved by Cooper (The Hangover ). He really nailed it. I thought Cooper played Pat so naturally that I couldn’t tell he was acting. I could see the “juju” in his eyes and I really empathized with his frustrations.

    Mitchell: It’s a very physical performance he gives, but it might be easy to miss the physicality because so much of his character’s torment is coming from within. Lawrence, too, seems like two different characters: impatient and acidic in groups but vulnerable and sincere when alone with Pat.

    Agree. I’d watch the movie again just for Cooper’s physical performance. I’m not sure how he did this. It was a little unnerving and, yes, totally awkward.

    The first time I saw the flicker in Cooper’s eyes was the scene where he encountered the high school principal (?) on campus one Sunday. I was impressed at how quickly he went from looking angry (when she told him a certain teacher still worked there) to looking appreciative and happy (when she noticed his weight loss). It was fascinating to watch this first of many mood swings.

    I liked DeNiro and Weaver as Pat’s parents. They’re both quirky, not to mention they’ve both played gangsters in previous roles. I didn’t think they were award-worthy performances but I liked them here. As an Australian, you have to give it up for Jackie Weaver channeling Edith Bunker. 🙂 I liked John Ortiz who played Ronnie, Veronica’s (Julia Stiles) husband.

    Reid: I must say that the movie threw me off, maybe even disoriented me, if that’s the right word. Initially, it felt like a indy drama-comedy, but then it morphed into a Hollywood rom-com.

    At first I felt uncomfortable with these differences (deducting points because of this) but after reading what you both wrote I thought maybe this is what having bipolar disorder might feel like. I’m not sure if this was intentional.

    Mitchell: Strong performances from the lead actors mostly forgive that, and their story is interesting enough that I’d kind of like to see another movie with the same characters, with the ending of this film as its beginning.

    I would not mind seeing that movie.

    I’d like to read the book to compare the different scenes against the movie and to see how the anger, along with the mood swings, is conveyed. I read somewhere that the song that sets Pat off in the novel is Kenny G’s Songbird. Also, the French title for the movie, Le Bon Cote des Choses, translates to The Bright Side of Things but is being billed as Happiness Therapy.

    80/100

  7. Reid

    Arlyn,

    At first I felt uncomfortable with these differences (deducting points because of this) but after reading what you both wrote I thought maybe this is what having bipolar disorder might feel like. I’m not sure if this was intentional.

    It’s interesting that you would say this because I’m talking to someone who suggested the same, although he claims that the film moves from comedy to serious drama throughout the film. I’m not sure I buy this, as I didn’t think there were many funny moments in the first half of the film (with the exception of the scenes with Tiffany and Pat Jr.).

  8. Arlyn

    I’m not sure I buy this either but I found out recently that Russell’s 18-year old son has bipolar disorder so it made me look at the movie differently.

  9. Reid

    Hmm, I heard that O. Russell himself struggled with bi-polar disorder–but maybe it was his son. (Some of O. Russell’s earlier films–Flirting with Diaster and I Heart Huckabees–are really kind of all over the place in terms of plot, so if he had some mental illness that wouldn’t be too surprising.)

  10. Arlyn

    I knew he did Huckabees and thought it was okay. I liked Flirting with Disaster a lot but I didn’t realize that was his. I’m starting to see him differently.

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