(At Least) Eight Questions About Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook is supposedly a story about two "crazy" people — Pat (Bradley Cooper), recently released from a correctional psych facility after beating his wife's lover severely; and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose guilty grief over her cop husband's death has bent her like a tree on a windy plain — who save each other. In reality, it's nervous laughter in screenplay form, a charm bracelet of tone-deaf vignettes that wastes several very good performances on unearned pay-offs. I don't get it, so I thought I'd ask a few questions.
- Does David O. Russell (or Matthew Quick, the author of the book on which the film is based — but because the screenplay should have ironed out any issues in the book, we'll blame Russell here) actually know anyone who has bipolar disorder? Anyone who's mentally ill, period? Mental illness isn't wacky; it isn't cute. It isn't a collection of socially awkward moments, or a basket of eccentricities, and it's not something that just clears up thanks to a cinematic epiphany and/or the love of a good woman. The one on-point aspect of the characterization of Pat, at least at the beginning, is that he doesn't know he's delusional, and Cooper deserves enormous credit for playing it straight down the fairway — no sweating, no twitching, just a sliiiightly too high speaking volume and Pat's unswerving devotion to an utterly irrational goal.
A few scenes start to open a window into what that's like to live with, to have responsibility for, for parents and significant others; when Officer Keogh (Dash Mihok) answers the call during Pat's freak-out, for instance, the script has managed to stop playing Pat's obvious manic distress for laughs and let the spinning build to a scarier place. Soon enough, though, it's back to the very important lesson about how we'reall crazy via Dad's (Robert De Niro) OCD, ha ha…ha. It's not necessary to treat the vagaries of Pat's disease with funereal seriousness, but this is a guy whose untreated illness smashed his life to chips and dust. His decision to stalk his ex-wife via her syllabus may not qualify for the Kooky Kuts-R-Us editing treatment.
- Whatever bribe-prone foolio let Pat out when he's evidently not ready to function outside yet, why doesn't the current assigned psychiatrist or P.O. put him back in when he's out of control? Ensure he's taking his meds? Get him a nice quiet job in low lighting? And why in the hell is Dr. Patel fluffing Pat's delusion by suggesting that befriending Tiffany will show her he's changed, thereby facilitating their reunion? Nikki's restraining order isn't kidding around; that's five football fields. Why is Pat discharged when they haven't corrected his thinking on that point? "Because there isn't a movie otherwise" isn't good enough. One line of retcon, maybe?
- And can't he find a woman — or a dude! — who's easier to like? I don't see why we need a romance in the story in the first place; I'd rather see him coming to terms with having to start over on his own. You could still have uplift without Pat getting laid. But no, we have to like her, because after causing a big old BPD scene in front of the movie theater and basically inciting a riot by pretending he's grabbing her, Tiffany then soothes him by repeating that "there is no song," and then Officer Dash Mihok is sleazy to her, so we have no choice but to root for her beautiful broken misunderstood whatever. I applaud the attempt to give the character complexity, but making a pretty woman with a sad story a twat isn't "complexity." And…she's still a twat.
- Why couldn't the script be more matter-of-fact about Dad's bookmaking? Okay, he's nutso with the sports rituals; this is half the country that's like that. He lost his job. He's taking a few bets. Randy is played by Paul "Beansie Gaeta" Herman; we get it. Why play it as a dysfunction? (I mean, why play it at all, I guess, because the parlay subplot is just so much MacGuffining to get Pat and Tiffany together, but anyway.) Why not have Mom (Jacki Weaver, underused) more present in that part of the plot instead of constantly fluttering around the men in the house?
- What's with the time jump between Pat figuring out that Tiffany wrote the letter to Nikki and Christmas? Never mind that it allowed for not one but two hacky montages — if he's pretending not to know because he knows they'll all think they need to produce Nikki, that's one thing, but if he's pretending not to know because he loves her, and he wants to hang out with her, obviously she loves him or she wouldn't have done all that string-pulling…if he's proved incapable in the movie thus far of keeping a lid on his emotions, why would he start with this? Yes, I know he goes back on his meds at some point in there. It's still baffling.
- And why does Nikki show up? Why don't we get an explanation of why she apparently no longer finds Pat a threat? Did the restraining order expire? Did her sister get her to the competition under false pretenses? And why is she acting all "tee hee, awkward" about seeing him? Felony assault! She sold their house and moved! If the restraining order didn't expire, she's putting him in the position of violating his parole!
- Does the script reeeeally think it's going to get away with "I love you. I knew it the minute I met you"? You guys remember shooting the scene where they meet, right? And how that's totally not what happened? And that we've seen nothing to indicate love in these lazy montages — not love, not trust, not mutual interests, not even the giggles you have in the trenches when a project or competition owns you for weeks on end? Just shots of Lawrence's cleavage, or Cooper staring at her naked back, which are a few interesting and narratively useful things, but are not "love," quite?
- The movie is set in Philadelphia; we're to assume almost everyone grew up there or has lived there for decades. The Eagles are a huge plot point. Not one character has a Phulladelphia accent. Not one character pronounces it "the Iggles." You don't need every character to get an accent coach, and you won't find my ass at the front of the line to give Mr. De Niro notes, but he of all people needs to be rocking the "herry up" and the "Murry Christmas." Kem ooahn. (That's probably too Baltimore. Philly pronunciations are tough to spell.)
I love Bradley Cooper's performance in Silver Linings Playbook, although it belongs to a different movie; I love Chris Tucker's, too. Danny is a cartoon, but the gag isn't overplayed, and it's such a nice contrast with the customary exhausting screeching. It has a few good, real beats, and it's sitting at 94% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes last I looked, so this is a minority opinion for sure. But SLP doesn't know what it is. It can't hear the realities of its own characters. It points to the gravity of Pat's actions when it's convenient, and slapsticks them up when it's not; it basically says about Tiffany that it would slut-shame her, but she's grieving, so it's okay. The tone is everywhere and nowhere. Lawrence is acting with her eyeshadow. Set design stands in for real character traits. No thanks. Do yourselves a favor and watch Weaver in Animal Kingdom instead.
Tags: Animal Kingdom Bradley Cooper cheap cheap Chris Tucker Dash Mihok henh? Jacki Weaver Jennifer Lawrence Kookoo Crazypantses movies Paul Herman people don't talk like that Silver Linings Playbook you're GONNA build Beansie a ramp