Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (David O. Russell, 2012)

Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has resided at a Baltimore psychiatric facility for eight months when his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) arrives to see that he is discharged in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.  Diagnosed with a bipolar disorder after beating the stuffing out of a man having an affair with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee), Pat is better than he was before being admitted.  He’s lost a lot of weight and talks about having a positive mental attitude, but his improvements cover up the fact that he’s still struggling to control his explosive anger.

Pat moves into the attic of his parents’ Philadelphia home eager to fix what his violent outburst ruined.  Although Pat is laser focused on repairing his marriage with Nikki, everyone else doesn’t seem to think it’s such a good idea.  For one, she has a restraining order, so Pat isn’t supposed to communicate with her.  His friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) tries to set him up with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an emotionally damaged widow, but Pat thinks she’s even more messed up than he is.  He reconsiders getting to know Tiffany when his therapist points out that helping her as a friend would be good for him too.  Also, Tiffany says she can get a letter to Nikki for him.  The catch is that in return Pat must be her partner in a dance competition.

On the surface SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a raucous romantic comedy, but its real interests are superstition and delusion.  In a world that can be senseless and cruel, dealing with pain and disappointment through irrational beliefs or rituals can provide comfort and order.  Pat puts his trust in the self-improvement system and psychotherapy.  His father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), running books to make ends meet since he was laid off, casts his lot with obsessive-compulsive behavior and sports and combines them when it comes to rooting on the Eagles.  Donning a favorite team’s jersey doesn’t help them win, and wearing black while in mourning won’t bring back a loved one. Religion isn’t explicitly mentioned, although both Pats wear necklaces bearing the face of Christ.  Dressing in these ways can give relief, though.  
Whether or not one sees putting faith in any of these spots as silly or meaningless, they aren’t necessarily problematic unless they harm others or cause self-incapacitation.  Of course, that’s where the delusion comes in and the source of these characters’ struggles.  Pat can’t fully recover until he accepts that his wife may not want anything to do with him again and that he ought to stay on his meds.  Serial flings won’t grant Tiffany the freedom to shed her grief.  The tension and confusion pinging inside these characters’ brains have them poised on the knife’s edge.  Writer-director David O. Russell emphasizes their jittery mindsets and boundary issues through editing and camera placement and movements that indicate manic depression.

From the taboo scenario in SPANKING THE MONKEY to the protagonist’s combative family in THE FIGHTER, Russell’s films feed on chaos and relationship dysfunction. The humor in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK flows from unfiltered words and deeds. Cooper and Lawrence’s scenes crackle with their blunt and hilarious assessments of each other’s neuroses.  Both give excellent comedic performances that avoid playing mental illness as a colorful quirk.  While there’s a lot of brutal truth telling in their exchanges, tenderness and vulnerability underline the sharpness.  

The romantic comedy formula often contends that people being horrid to one another masks a deep, abiding affection that will eventually emerge.  It’s a crock but nevertheless that’s what gets stressed time and again.  The difference in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is that presenting abrasive personalities is a distancing technique for scared people struggling to recognize their willingness to love and be loved.

Grade: B+

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