David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is a convulsive, clichéd, impossibly frustrating motion picture. Based on the book of the same name by Matthew Quick, this 2012 entry has picked up piles of Academy Award nominations and has won accolades and acclaim for its performances. It currently holds a 92 percent “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Silver Linings Playbook actually starts off well, but the movie finds itself drowning under too many subjects and too many pointless complications. That it veers predictably toward its “stack the odds” finish is the icing on the pedestrian cake, giving the flick its inevitable ending and removing the impact of its carefully-built volatility.
Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, a former teacher who has been institutionalized with bipolar disorder. He is released after eight months of treatment, so he moves back in with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert De Niro). Pat’s dad is working some sort of bookmaking racket because he lost his job.
Pat’s goal is to reconcile things with his wife (Brea Bee), but she has a restraining order against him. Pat eventually meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the sister-in-law to the wife (Julia Stiles) of one of his friends (John Ortiz). The relationship between Tiffany and Pat becomes the focal point, although Pat seems to still have one eye on getting back with Nikki.
As noted, the film starts off well. Russell, together with cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, maintains a manic style, using fast zooms and curving shots to place us inside the headspace of Pat. There is an instability about the character and Russell’s directorial style, often nutty and frequently goofy, does well to drive this point home.
But things start to unwind. It becomes clear that Silver Linings Playbook is an overflowing enigma of a picture, a movie that wants to include things like mental illness, football, gambling, and even a dance competition in order to cover all of its proverbial bases. Because of this, everything in the film feels like some sort of device in order to drive the action to its inevitable dénouement.
When Silver Linings Playbook is willing to live within the dark spaces of its characters’ minds, it can be a very good film. But when it insists on bounding out into the loving arms of movie clichés, it starts to resemble a subpar romantic comedy with all the accoutrements. There are love letters, an empty street, a run up the empty street, a “winner take all” gamble, and everything else besides an airport scene.
Russell’s film wants to use the mental illnesses of its characters, from Tiffany to Pat to Pat’s father and beyond, as entertaining little ticks that can be picked up or discarded as the plot requires. From clear gambling problems coupled with cute OCD to swerving bipolar disorder with violent tendencies, everything is treated with sickening convenience.
Consider how easily Pat settles down from hearing “My Cherie Amour,” the song that played when he was driven to near-murder. While it’s possible (and romantic) to think that Tiffany would have such a profound effect on cooling his proverbial jets, the song’s sudden inefficacy as relates to Pat’s mental condition is but one piece of the film’s glib approach to serious matters.
Or contemplate Lawrence’s character. From tragedy, she heads into “whore” territory and is fired from a job for sleeping with an entire office of 11 people (including the women, OMG). But, for the wellbeing (read: plot device) of her nascent relationship with Pat, “she doesn’t do that anymore” and is resorted to a medley of Goth/badass clichés. There’s only so much Lawrence can do with the role.
Silver Linings Playbook treats us to a number of fantasies, but it makes for a rather frustrating cocktail. Russell’s movie wants to have it all and doesn’t quite know how to get it, so it tosses significant issues aside in favour of a dance contest and a little cuddling while the supporting cast looks on. Excelsior, indeed.