Saturday, January 19, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook / *** (R)

Pat: Bradley Cooper
Tiffany: Jennifer Lawrence
Pat Sr.: Robert De Niro
Dolores: Jacki Weaver
Danny: Chris Tucker
Dr. Cliff Patel: Anupam Kher
Ronnie: John Ortiz
Jake: Shea Whigham
Veronica: Julia Stiles
Randy: Paul Herman

The Weinstein Company presents a film written and directed by David O. Russell. Based on the novel by Matthew Quick. Running time: 122 min. Rated R (for language and some sexual content/nudity).

There are times when my fanaticism over the New York Football Giants crosses over into the obsessive/compulsive realms. If the Giants lose a game when I wear one of my jerseys, I’ll probably wear a different one the next week. I am like an anvil when it comes to anything conflicting with seeing a game live. If a kid has soccer practice, I’ll still go, but I have to sit in the van with the satellite radio tuned to the Giants. But, every once and a while I give in. I recorded a couple this year and just had to catch up with the live feed after getting home from a couple family events here and there. I don’t insist that I sit in the exact same seat for every game. When they lose, although I feel I’ve let the team down, I know in my heart that I don’t really have supernatural abilities to affect the outcome. If I thought that, people might think I’m crazy.

Pat is crazy. He’s not totally off his rocker, but he’s a more modern and tempered version of nuts. He was sentenced to spend eight months in a mental facility after an “incident.” He’s been diagnosed as bipolar. We meet him as he’s preparing for his day there. He psyches himself up with a mantra that includes the detail that he’s a Philadelphia Eagles football fan. He has adapted a positive outlook that includes the word “excelsior”—everything has a silver lining and takes you higher. He still seems like a pretty angry individual, though.

Pat’s mother gets him released to her and Pat Sr.’s custody. He has a restraining order on him to stay away from his wife, who was involved in the incident, which also involved another man. Pat has issues with his dad. They are not so different from each other. His dad has been in so many fights at Eagles games that he’s been banned from the stadium. His dad is hoping to reconnect with Pat on Sundays while he’s forced to be home. Pat, however, has other plans that aren’t so well thought out considering the restraining order. He’s obsessed with the notion that he can and will get back together with his wife. Then he meets a kindred spirit in Tiffany, whose husband, a police officer recently died.

What we have in “Silver Linings Playbook” is essentially a romantic comedy in the guise of a portrait of mental illness. That’s not a complaint. It’s an interesting take on both subject matters. The Meet Cute in this case involves two people who have no filters between their heads and their mouths. Pat’s wife’s best friend, who also happens to be Tiffany’s sister, sets them up. Pat’s family isn’t sure about the pairing since Tiffany has acquired a bit of a reputation because of her condition. She slept around a great deal after her husband’s death, but she was never institutionalized like Pat.

They aren’t “dating” so much as helping each other to achieve something they couldn’t without the other. Pat wants Tiffany to deliver a letter to his wife explaining his actions. In exchange, Pat has agreed to dance with Tiffany in an amateur competition. Of course, everybody has trouble accepting the plutonic nature of their relationship, not the least of who is Pat, who has trouble reconciling his newfound feelings for Tiffany with his determination to get back with his wife.

More so than anything, the success of the film lies within the performances of the four primary characters—Pat, Pat Sr., Tiffany, and Pat’s mother, Dolores. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have bigger hurdles than most rom com stars to traverse as they must overcome the erratic and sometimes nasty behavior of their characters. Their relationship works as therapy for both the characters and the audience. We all must become more accepting of differences in public personalities. These two characters fight against the sheep-like nature society wants them to assume, while the audience learns to accept a very untraditional romantic courtship.

Robert De Niro, as the senior Pat, is nearly as manic as Pat himself. The primary difference being that his behavior is more widely accepted as the eccentricities of age, an aspect of his obsession with everything Eagles, and a product of his generation. De Niro is allowed a great emotional scene when he finally tries to open up to his son, revealing that he thinks Pat’s sickness might be his fault. David O. Russell’s screenplay wisely refrains from having Pat attempt to comfort his father’s confession.

I would say the unsung hero of the family and the performances comes from Jacki Weaver as the fretting mother were it not for her well-deserved Oscar nomination. Weaver never overplays the mother. She stays within her place as a mother from her generation. She barely raises her voice above the men. She also takes matters into her own hands on more than one occasion in very passive, but calculated ways. Her presence is exactly what it should be.

Russell has handled family and hero dysfunction before in such films as “The Fighter” and “Flirting with Disaster”. His direction has a harsh, gritty feel to build the portrait of these damaged people. His screenplay also flirts with deeper meanings and more profound feelings as with the scene were the father confesses his feelings to Pat. Without ever quite reaching the deepest moments with which it teases, it also embraces a little too many romantic clich├ęs by its end. Some of the character’s actions in the final scenes feel more like what they’re supposed to be doing than what these two particular characters would actually do. For such a dramatic take on the romantic heroes, it all ends in an awfully silver silver lining. I wonder if a not so perfect ending might’ve felt more satisfying for this set up.

Despite any formulaic measures “Silver Linings Playbook” employs, it is a refreshing take on two old cinematic models. Before I saw the movie, I questioned the Hollywood Foreign Press’s assessment that it belonged in the Musical or Comedy category. Now, I understand the choice. As a comedy, it isn’t of the typical knee slap situational types; but it follows the rom com formula almost to a fault, and it is quite funny at times. It’s also serious in its portrayal of mental illness. These are not caricatures of mental disorders, but people really trying to deal with their problems. The result of this hybrid of genres is refreshing, if not totally complimentary. My biggest problem with the movie is wondering how a Cowboy fan would ever be caught dead wearing a Giants sweatshirt. I don’t care what I’ve bet on a game, you will never see me wear the silver and blue. America’s Team, my ass!

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