SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Review: Crazy In Love
I’ve always thought that the mark of a good film that is based in reality (and by that, I mean your typical comedy/drama, not some superhero movie of sci-fi blockbuster), or the mark of a good actor playing a reality-based character, is that something in the film and/or its characters are not only recognizable, but immediately relatable to viewers.
“Wow. That character is SO your sister.”
“Holy crap. My boss is the exact same way.”
“Oh my God. That’s me.”
And while I have only anecdotal observations to support this, it seems that the increase in being relatable to the viewer is directly influenced by the increase in the dysfunction of the character or the situation, as long as that increase doesn’t strain credulity.
In Silver Linings Playbook, the dysfunction at the character, group, and story dynamic is at such a high (yet believable) level, if you haven’t known, even to a mild degree, any of this dysfunction, I really need to be a part of your life, or at least meet its players.
The film introduces us to Pat (Bradley Cooper) who, at the start of the film, is released into his parents’ custody after serving eight months in a psychiatric hospital. The visit was part of a plea agreement when Pat was diagnosed as bipolar after he violently assaulted the man his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) was sleeping with. Along with the sentence came a restraining order requiring Pat to stay away from Nikki, her house, and the school where she teaches (and where he used to teach).
While living with his parents, Pat Sr. and Dolores (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), Pat battles his illness, comes close to running afoul of the law, and yearns to reunite with Nikki. Amidst all of that, he is introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with troubles of her own. The two form a relationship that begins as volatile, but gradually evolves into something so much more.
Cooper is masterful in this role. Pat is reluctant to medicate, obsesses over keeping lost weight from returning, schemes of ways to win back his estranged wife, and snaps over things from the significant (hearing “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder, which was not only his wedding song, but also the song that his wife was playing while having sex with the other man) to the ridiculous (the ending of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” which sends Pat into his parents’ bedroom for a 3:00 a.m. screed). Cooper not only finds the perfect degree of polarity in each of these scenarios (and others), he manages to remind us that he is always a step, a step-and-a-half, away from “normal”; that maybe, just maybe, with a little more therapy, a little more medication, a few more social graces, he can be just like the rest of us.
And yet … isn’t he like us already? Don’t we know a Pat? Don’t we know a person who would do anything to win back a lost love, or obsess over physical appearance, or say the wrong thing at the wrong time but for all the right reasons? Isn’t there a little Pat in all of us? The answer is that yes, we all know a Pat, and there is is a little Pat in all of us, and Cooper taps directly into that.
(A quick note: it was a shrewd decision on the filmmakers’ part to tone down Cooper’s Hollywood-good looks. He doesn’t go Charlize-in-Monster extreme, but he is far closer to your neighborhood good-looking guy than he is to, say, his role as Face in The A-Team. Which reminds me … he keeps his shirt on the whole time too – another wise choice. This film is about the messed-up insides, not the pretty outsides.)
Still and all, as a mentally troubled man who cannot manage the complexities and challenges of his own illness, Pat’s entire existence is dependent upon his ability to manage his relationships with the people in his life, all of whom are also damaged, but to varying degrees.
His friends are damaged. Danny (the surprisingly charming Chris Tucker, whose casting baffled me until I saw him in the role) is a fellow hospital patient who can’t seem to stay in the hospital. Know someone with a little rebellion in them, a little disregard for the rules but not to the point of great trouble? Danny reminds you of them. Ronnie (John Ortiz) is in an oppressive marriage to Veronica (Julia Stiles). Know the oppressed? Know the oppressor? Know them both and yet aren’t sure if one is too passive, or the other too aggressive, or some toxic combination of both? Ronnie and Veronica remind you of them.
Pat’s family is damaged. While Pat was in the hospital, his father, Pat Sr. (De Niro), a man with a violent streak himself, lost his job and turned to bookmaking to earn a living. This is a profession that is not only illegal, but one that contributes to (or exacerbates) his obsessive compulsive disorder. Oh, it’s cleverly disguised by Pat Sr. to appear to be superstition (particularly evidenced on game day Sundays, when lucky handkerchiefs and such are the order of the day), and some of it might just be superstition (sports can do strange things to a man), but there is OCD going on here, and it’s very evident in little things like the precise placement of the remote controls, or empty envelopes that have already been numbered for future use (and what happens when one of those empty envelopes goes missing). While I’m not saying the guy combs the fringe on the throw-rug, he certainly needs things to be a VERY particular way and becomes unnerved when they aren’t … something I can personally relate to.
De Niro is so good here, and really at his best when he does what he was hired to do – support – and allow Cooper to carry their scenes together. His subtleties show that when you wash away all the Focker gunk, he still knows what the hell he is doing in front of a camera.
Pat’s mother (Weaver) is damaged too, although in a much more passive way. She is the mother who assumes responsibility for her son when he is released because she certainly knows her son better than the doctors. When things go wrong, she doesn’t so much forgive as she forgets, and if not forgets, chooses to ignore. Her solution to life’s problems? Inaction. If she simply ignores it, maybe it will go away. And her place in the family dynamic is not really one of matriarch, but rather second-class citizen. This is cleverly reinforced by the Philadelphia Eagles jersey she wears on game day – number 4: Kevin Kolb. Yes, Kolb … neither the star nor the leader of the team, but rather, the backup quarterback. That’s mom – there if you need her, but low on the depth-chart otherwise. Sound familiar? Sound like anyone in your life? It certainly does mine.
These influences, particularly his parents, can only hinder Pat’s recovery. (And I didn’t even get into the relationship between him and his brother – the favored son.) His environment, while technically home, is unhealthy, and yet rather that let it pull him down, he fights harder to rise above it.
Wait … all of that plus Jennifer Lawrence? Oh yeah. All of that … and ESPECIALLY Jennifer Lawrence.
Tiffany is the most complex of the characters in Pat’s life. She is widowed, and in the aftermath of her loss she behaved badly to the point of considerable detriment to her reputation. She is experiencing various levels of unaddressed pain, and finds something of a soulmate in Pat – someone who is just as damaged as she is. (Surely you know this girl – I know I dated her at one point.) But Tiffany doesn’t make their relationship easy, and in fact her actions in the third act fully exploit both Pats’ troubles – father and son – for her own gain. But like the younger Pat, she thinks what she is doing right. Yes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but people as fractured as Pat and Tiffany are almost child-like in their approach to life, so hell is not necessarily in their future.
While the construct of Silver Linings Playbook is traditional rom/com, and while I’m still not sure I’m happy with the ending, director David O. Russell does an excellent job avoiding superficial clichés. Each character’s uniqueness is defined by actual character traits and flaws, not by insufferable things like a quirky career or an unrealistic plot contrivance. The people in this film are developed characters, not sketchy caricatures.
Out of five stars …