Our delusions run deep, often right down the core of our being, and love causes us to fall into lunacies we can’t even imagine. We find ourselves doing deranged things out of a misplaced sense of love or devotion, and drifting into a fugue state of rationalizing poor decisions made for seemingly great reasons. Silver Linings Playbook carefully walks the line between reminding us of our own relentless obsessions and distancing us enough from the action to see the crazy that is ever so evident before us. A character drama for people who can handle being spoken to as adults, with a hefty dose of honesty.
Bradley Cooper plays Patrick, a man suffering from a mental breakdown episode that turned violent, but he’s a man with a plan, determined to get his estranged wife back, through a combination of exercise and self-improvement. While home from the mental hospital he must contend with his doting mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro), and his father’s desire for connection through their shared love of football, all the while attempting to stick to his goal of connecting with his wife. He meets an unbalanced young widow (Jennifer Lawrence) who promises to help him, in return for his help in achieving one of her dreams.
The dialogue and direction of that dialogue is remarkable. Director David O. Russell offers up some of the most natural sounding scenes I’ve heard in quite a while as characters talk over, under and through one another. The timing of the sight gags is impeccable and against all odds, this is a genuinely funny film. I laughed many times, and the reason being that there’s no reserve here, there’s no smug withholding on the part of the cast or filmmaker, no opportunity to smirk at how intelligent the script is or how good the performances are. Everyone here is too busy working to take a moment for contemplation, and the end results are striking.
The effects of mental illness are felt and evident throughout, rather than simply talked about or seen once. Because Patrick and Tiffany lack inhibitions or filters granted to mere mortals, the kind of genuine conversations or interactions that are available to them elevate this from the mundane to the nearly divine. But neither of them are geniuses, nobody’s spouting off about Proust, in short, no one is trying to prove how worldly they are. They live in the real world, and could easily be very real people. Solidly middle class and dealing with the last bastion of problems reserved for the white middle class — mental health. As Flannery O’Connor writes, “In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow.” Patrick and Tiffany are in another place, and as their families struggle to be supportive, they find that their illness has removed them from their lives. They are now islands, albeit islands in an archipelago, trying their best to get back to the mainland, but not making much progress.
Brad Lee Cooper Actor turns in one of the most nuanced performances of his career, something that proved to me he was more than just a pretty face, as most of his previous roles seemed more devoted to catching just the right angle of sunlight off his glinting hair and chiseled features. But long gone is that Cooper, and we’re left with a character broken down to bits and reconstructed from the ground up. Almost unrecognizable, his portrayal of the casual swings of bi-polar disorder is deeply affecting. His anger issues threaten every facet of his life, a long-standing issue that has affected his relationships across the board, from his distant wife to his older brother, best friend to his hapless father. Patrick is relentless in his verbal commitment to positivity, as if tumbling the idea over and over in his mind will help it find purchase, and become ingrained in his deepest sense of self.
Jennifer Lawrence inhabits her character just as fully, with no time for false empathy, instead holding her own against any and all comers. She’s unpredictable, loud, obnoxious and unwilling to put up with any of Patrick’s shit. A commanding presence that refuses to be cowed, though Patrick does his accidental best to curb and undermine her, make her ashamed of being alive out of his own fear. This mask eventually falls away, and Patrick’s single minded focus on winning his wife back nearly costs him all he wanted, but Tiffany is far too determined and clever to be sidetracked by anything or anyone.
One potential misstep is the length of the film, which at two hours had me checking the time endlessly during the last quarter, and the truly terrible title which may be one of the worst of the year. I get it, it has to do with football and with silver linings and stuff, but come on. It’s hard to say and a million syllables. But don’t let a terrible title keep you from Silver Linings Playbook. There’s warmth, laughter, community and joy to be found here amidst the ruins. When we have nothing left to lose we find ourselves at our most authentic, and emerge from these moments of alchemy wiser, changed.