The World Will Break Your Heart; but…
Silver Linings Playbook
Hollywood has always had a bit of an odd attitude when it comes to dealing with mental illness. And I’ve likewise always been a little ambivalent about how to relate to it myself; well, as dealt with in the movies, you understand?
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Take Taxi Driver; of course it is wonderful but I’ve never been really comfortable with the idea of a guy going on a homicidal rampage and as a result becoming ‘cured’ of all that ails him. I always thought that had more to do with the inside of screenwriter Paul Schrader’s head than the character of Travis Bickle. I loved the film but was puzzled by the ending.[/column][column size=”1-5″ last=”0″ style=”0″]
Then you have the universally applauded One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the equally universally shrugged-off The Beaver, which I found to be an absolutely terrifying portrait of a really disturbed individual.
So, what to make of Silver Linings Playbook? Here we go again: I really liked this movie…and had a lot of problems with it.
It begins with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) getting released under supervision from a mental facility in Baltimore. As we learn from his talks with his therapist he has savagely beaten the man that he caught in the shower with his wife. He also tends to go apeshit when he hears a particular Stevie Wonder song (‘My Cherie Amour’) that was played at his wedding and which the two adulterers were in fact listening to. So really neither of those reasons seems good enough for locking him up—especially the last one. If I were to be banged away every time I threw a wobbly when Old Stevie came on the radio I’d never see the light of day.
There is a lot more craziness to Pat than that, though. He’s given to throwing books through the window, running around in a bin liner and to bursting in on his parents with daft questions in the middle of the night, as well as violent fits and generally keeping the neighbours wearing their ear plugs.
His dad Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro) isn’t exactly the most regular guy in the world either. He has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as well as believing that a complicated series of rituals, most of which include his son’s involvement, will help his favourite sports team the Eagles to win the league; and also into the bargain will earn him enough money to open a restaurant. As if Pat the younger doesn’t have enough on his plate, his old man has a frigging serious gambling problem, something that is pretty much made light of. At least his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) seems normal, apart from putting up with all this and going on a cooking spree at the least opportunity.
The wife may have a barring order against him and the neighbours may look askance when he runs past in his bin liner but at least his old pal Ronnie (John Ortiz) and his wife Veronica (Julia Stiles) haven’t turned their backs on him. Mind you, Ronnie is wrapped well tight and their marriage may not be as sound as it appears, but in comparison they’re OK.
It‘s at a ‘welcome home’ dinner that Pat gets acquainted with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has had her own problems. She has become a bit of a nympho after the death of her husband but is recovering (kind of) and trying to get her act together; and meeting Pat may not be the best way to do this. They spend a large part of the meal discussing various medications that they’ve been on, which strikes me as probably what would happen. Pat is a good looking guy; Tiffany is gorgeous and quirkily sweet and he ends up walking her home.
Then comes one of those ‘how come that never happens to me?’ movie moments as she tells him: “Who wears a football jersey to dinner? I hate football but you can fuck me if you turn the lights off.” At which point we see just how crazy Pat is as he turns her down.
He asks her how old she is (bizarrely enough, as she is definitely legal age), to which she replies: “Old enough to have a marriage end and not wind up in a mental hospital”. At which point it is fair to say that despite reservations I was on her side.
This is the start of a beautiful friendship that…well, could lead to more? I’m not saying, you can find out for yourself.
They begin to train for a dancing competition which also involves Pat the Father’s gambling on the Eagles and the whole film is highly enjoyable. As I said, I have my problems with it but you really do like the characters and want them to be happy, although admittedly not living next door to you. You don’t like them that much.
And, in particular with Pat Jr. you find yourself saying: Oh come on, the guy may be nuts but he’s not crazy. He’s not going to wear a jersey to dinner, he’s not going to take a gorgeous girl out for a meal and order breakfast cereal. He gives reasons but I wasn’t buying them.
Those are my quibbles, most people don’t share them and that’s OK because I really did like the movie a lot. It is strangely old-fashioned and has seen both Cooper and the very photogenic Lawrence nominated for awards, as have de Niro and Weaver in support.
The director and writer David O. Russell (with the screenplay based on Matthew M. Quick’s book) is also up for Best Picture and Best Director. I had forgotten that he did the excellent Flirting with Disaster ‘way back when; and with this new film added to that and The Fighter he must now be considered the go-to guy when you want to do something on dysfunctional families.