As with so many films that examine mental illness through the lens of their characters, Silver Linings Playbook ends up like most, with the crazies saner than the non-crazies. I was hoping David O. Russell would push the envelope a bit and give us a fresh look, but the film plays it safe. Bradley Cooper is Pat (Sr.) doing eight months time in a Baltimore mental health facility. He severely beat the man he found in the shower with his wife after coming home early one day. Pat has many OCD related issues and we’re led to believe this event was the trigger to going over the edge.
Quirky people abound in this picture. Robert DeNiro plays Pat Solatano, senior to Pat Jr. The senior is a Philadelphia Eagles fanatic and was banned from the stadium years ago for beating people up. He now runs a bookie business out of his home and is uber-supersticious on game day. Pat Jr. is released into the custody of his parents and trots around the neighborhood bumping into the people he knew prior to the event. Pat Jr. is still obsessed with his wife Nikki and is convinced they are still madly in love. If only he could demonstrate to her his is now stable, all would be fine.
Enter Tiffany played with intrigue by Jennifer Lawrence. They are introduced at a dinner party by Pat Jr.’s friend who is TIffany’s brother. They make an instant connection. Tiffany’s husband was tragically killed and she has been unable to cope. The rest of the story has Pat Jr. and Tiffany jogging around the streets of their neighborhood trying to connect. It’s strangely comedic, but you get the feeling you really shouldn’t be laughing.
Pat Jr. wants to get a letter to Nikki, but dog gone it there’s that annoying restraining order in the way. Tiffany claims she can pass Nikki the letter and will do it if he agrees to be her dance partner and enter a contest at a local hotel. He agrees and the dance begins. The rehearsal scenes are really interesting as it requires the actors to do as much physically as mentally. Those hours become their real therapy sessions (minus the bill). The crazy becomes the therapists.
I swear that everyday is Sunday in this movie, and Eagles game day Sunday at that. Pat Sr. pleads with Pat Jr. to sit and watch the game. He never does. Despite all that attention on football we never actually see a play, not on television and not even when Pat Jr. goes to the Eagles stadium with his loser brother. Of course Pat gets in a fight during the pre-game tailgate.
The film is at its best when it slows down and examines the strangling consequences of mental illness. People really get lost and live life in an alternate reality and they are frequently helpless to get better. Many of these suffering people don’t know what normal (word used loosely) is, but they are keenly aware that they are not that.
Bradley Cooper is the billed star, but the movie ultimately belongs to Jennifer Lawrence. She sets the tone with her ability to manipulate the moment. When you look into her expression you absolutely know there is so much more going on beneath that face and it’s probably conniving in nature.
This film has terrible timing. It came out during a rush of serious and important film projects and when you compare them to this picture, it just can’t hold up. The soundtrack combines some excellent original work from Danny Elfman sprinkled with Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Rare Earth (look it up).
Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company