"I wrote 63 songs this year. They're all about Jeter." Just kidding. The game we love, the players we hate, and more.

Culture and Criticism

From Norman Mailer to Wendy Pepper — everything on film, TV, books, music, and snacks (shut up, raisins), plus the Girls' Bike Club.

Donors Choose and Contests

Helping public schools, winning prizes, sending a crazy lady in a tomato costume out in public.

Stories, True and Otherwise

Monologues, travelogues, fiction, and fart humor. And hens. Don't forget the hens.

The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » Culture and Criticism

(At Least) Eight Questions About Silver Linings Playbook

Submitted by on February 18, 2013 – 4:25 PM42 Comments


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.

Be Sociable, Share!



  • CJ says:

    Can I love you more?! I think no. All of these were questions I had reading the book and as someone intimately familiar with both BPD & OCD I'm so fucking tired if that being played without any insight. Really not ever funny, just mostly exhausting with moments of angry self-hate. But I guess that wouldn't be fun or uplifting to watch.

  • David M says:

    1. David O Russell's son has a mental disorder.
    2-8. This is clearly not a movie for you. Why belabor the point?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    1. Interesting. I'm betting it's not either of the disorders portrayed here, though.
    2-8. New here, I take it?

  • Suzanne M says:

    His son is bipolar with OCD, actually.

  • A says:

    He was interviewed on NPR (I don't remember which show) and said he'd wanted to make the movie to let his son feel like there was a movie about him. (And his son actually appears in the movie, which is… weird, to me, but then I don't have a son or bipolar disorder, nor have I seen the film.)

    All in all, I think this is a movie I don't need to see.

  • attica says:

    Now, I just saw a news-show profile on Cooper (Charles Osgood's show? I forget) in which Cooper's Philly roots were trotted out for How Important The Town Is To Him, so I'm surprised to read the requisite accent is missing. It's not like they'd need subtitles to translate Phillyese.

    I've read more reviews than yours that take issue with the ridiculousness of the 'resolution' of Pat's illness, so you're not alone. Not that matters when you've got a hipster soundtrack and pretty people onscreen.

  • Amanda says:

    "lawrence acting with her eyeshadow" wtf?!!

    I could write a freaking novella about her masterful performance. Her impeccable comedic/dramatic timing in the diner and outside the diner was incredible. She manages to make the character emotionally reserved while communicating everything; hurt, regret, and pride through her eyes. Most intriguing character in the film by far- Quick even said her performance brought the character to life the best.

    So much better than Bradley's. I watched this movie 3x and Bradley's goes down so much, while Lawrence's just gets more layered and subtle. Bradley is just a kid with a tantrum.

    and you like Chris Tucker? Your opinion= invalid

  • Lore says:

    I've only seen the trailers/commercials for this, which pretty much led me to conclude it was not the film for me…but your more detailed analysis confirms it on all points.

  • KrisK says:

    Um, it's a movie.

  • Anon For This One says:

    Per #2, it is actually very common for patients to be released from a psychiatric facility before they are stable. Regardless of what a person is admitted for, hospitals will often release patients once they are no longer violent toward themselves or others. Folks who have family members who struggle with mental illness know that there's a gap you can drive a truck through between nonviolent and "stable". It's not uncommon for someone to get home, start refusing the meds, and wind up back in the hospital a few days later. Even if someone is admitted for being violent, the facility will often only hold them as long as a) someone is willing to foot the bill, whether that's the family or the state, (and the states don't pony up much money at all these days), or b) as long as they can legally hold someone before they can sign their own release form (which varies by state). So yeah, doesn't surprise me at all that they let this movie character go without complete treatment.

    We admitted my father once when he was in a ferocious manic state. He was so angry that we took him to the hospital that he tore a pay phone from the wall and threw it at the orderlies. They still let him out before he was completely unmanic. Didn't matter that he could have harmed someone severely. Not one bit.

  • Turbonium says:

    Part of a Philly accent is to elide *everything*. It's not "kem aahn", it's "kuh mahn" (or, rather, "kuhmahn".) Yawana chee stake? Skoda mahl, eygot goodense.

  • Abigail says:

    I didn't hate it, but wildly overrated.

    1. Lawrence is way too young for the part. Making her a brunette doesn't alleviate this problem. Imagine someone a lot more complex and less dewy in the role and the whole thing is far more interesting. Marisa Tomei fifteen years ago, I don't know who now. Lawrence if fine, she's a good actress, just not in this.

    2. I liked that the gambling was played as a pathology, because it can be for so many people. It was part of how his mental illness manifested, and brought home mental illness as a generational issue.

    3. No need to bring the wife in ever. Nikki as a cipher worked. Nikki as flesh and blood, no.

    4. I liked that the film was willing to show the character turn to rage on a dime, but overall it was way too interested in making us like him. He has to defend Tiffany's honor from the cop, he only gets in a fight at the football game because of evil racists. That's weak writing, and doesn't trust the viewer.

  • I think I liked it more than you did (I definitely liked Lawrence more), but I generally agree that this is a case of good characters, weak story.

    My biggest problem was with their first meeting. I don't know if it was supposed to be a fix-up, but it felt like it anyway. And if you're Julia Stiles, why in the hell would you introduce your depressed sister, who's been acting out sexually to THAT guy? The whole setup made no sense.

    Also, why in the world would Pat's parents have been tipping off Tiffany to when he was going out running? Huh?

  • Kara says:

    I'm from Philly (spared the accent) and movies never get it right. Here they didn't even try. I think I saw a dialect coach in the credits; s/he should give back the fee. The accent is typically strong among blue-collar folks, which Pat and 'nem were, and yet nothing.

    And I'm a Jennifer Lawrence fan but yeah, she's too young for the part. She's playing Cooper's love interest in another movie and they look like father and daughter.

  • Alan Swann says:

    Matthew Quick has said in interviews that he has suffered from mood swings and depression, and that he has worked in "the mental health community" and knows bipolar people. That neither validates nor invalidates your points — just information.

    I'd make a joke about how SLP almost made ME bipolar, but apparently a few posters here might not, um, get it was a joke, so I'll just say that it left me with mixed emotions. I enjoyed most of the performances; on the other hand, this is far from the first movie that trots out the "mental illness/personality disorder cured by love" trope, and it gets more irritating every time.

  • Dinah says:

    This is just from the wikipedia summary of the book, but it looks like a couple of these problems were introduced by the script: Niki showing up at the competition, Pat knowing about the letters but not saying anything (and the accompanying time jump), as well as Pat being locked up for months (in the movie) rather than years.

    That said, I sort of looked at that I love you scene at the end as a sort of demonstration of how unready the two of them are for this, that they're stiill too unstable that they could call this love when they really seem to be using each other as some sort of outlet/fantasy crush object/distraction. I don't think they live happily ever after, but at least they've managed to find some sort of comfort or happiness, however brief. Of course this interpretation only works if you sort of willfully ignore the last scene, but I'm ok with that.

  • Natalie says:

    YES, thank you. I expected to love this movie since everyone else did, but the ILYs at the end felt WAY un-earned. I believed in these two as friends who had both been through difficult times and found some solace in one another, but I did not get romantic love from them until the very end. And I kind of don't get how Tiffany faking the letter from Nikki is endearing or how it makes him realize she loves him. I mean, she could have done that for a lot of reasons such as: he is crazy about reuniting with Nikki and would have been heartbroken if she wouldn't write to him so she fakes a letter to make him feel better. As a friend and someone who wants him to stay stable for awhile to be in the dance with her.

    I really wish this movie would have been about two people who went on a date but ended up as just good friends.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I saw and liked the movie–I especially appreciated that their newfound yet unspoken love did NOT grant them uberdance skills, and they just barely made that 5, especially that hilariously botched lift–and Cooper playing determined not to notice how completely uneasy/outright terrified people are of him because he IS JUST FINE.

    But the end, with them snuggling and apparently not a quirk between 'em? Not so much. Even if he's taking his meds because he Now Has A Reason To and she's miraculously over her totally untherapied acting out, I find it hard to believe they are ready to suddenly drop mental illness like an outgrown coat and move into a shiny new day.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Oh, and that parley scene went on waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long. Like, five a's worth of too long.

  • Sam says:

    I'm in the camp that finds Lawrence overrated as an actress in general. She's given exactly one performance that worked for me and I don't think she's strong enough to elevate weak material. This is the ideal role for a young actress. She just needs to look pretty and sad and the audience will read into the performance.

    I don't know what it is about disorders but a lot of people, whether they have a disorder or not, tend to….glamorize them, I guess is the word. Romanticize might be better. Like having a disorder just makes you intensely quirky in a way that might be alarming at first until you get used to it. Your best personality traits are played up, the side affects of the disorder are played down. Apparently, to do otherwise would be unforgiving.

  • Rachel says:

    I spent 75% of the movie thinking that "bookmaking" meant that Robert DeNiro made books, like actual books, not anything to do with betting. And I could not understand why everyone was making such a big deal about it. Maybe he quit a high paying job to be an artist and make books?

    But this may say more about me than it does about the movie.

  • Emily says:

    Totally agree with you that this is a movie that couldn't decide what it wanted to be: gritty indie realism or hollywood rom com. As a result? Not successful at either, though leaning heavily towards the latter. I just can't understand what the fuss is about this movie — the idea that it is nominated for best picture seems absurd to me.

  • Robin in Philly says:

    I enjoyed the heck out of this movie while in the theater (da Iggles! Llanerch Diner! Namedropping King of Prussia! Hey, I know that intersection!), but walked out later scratching my head and thinking, "Gee, that didn't look much like bipolar to me…" A friend of mine – an Eagles fan who actually IS diagnosed bipolar – had nothing but scathing hatred for the depiction here, and the more I thought about it, the more I've come to admit that she (and now you) are pretty much on the money. I found Lawrence's performance to be more nuanced, but probably only in comparison to the rest of the cast. Even DeNiro struck me as cloying and one-note.

    Also, could not agree more about two things: the surprisingly-redeemed Chris Tucker and the local accent. Cooper, dude, you're from Jenkintown. YOU of all people should know we drink "wooder" and "lager," not "water" and "beer"!

  • Elisa says:

    Yes! Everything you said. I also sat there going "What is this movie?!"

    1) At which point did Mom and Tiffany conspire to have her run out at all times to meet Pat? And WHY? It made no sense.

    2) Where did he figure out she wrote the letter and (as you said) why go along with everyone?

    3) Cinematic kiss, complete with a shot gleefully orbiting around them. No. Just no. Doesn't fit in with the style of it.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Elisa, we do see where he figures it out — it's a phrasing she repeats several times in the previous scene — but what happens after that is still kind of inexplicable.

  • Abigail says:

    Oh yes, one more Statement on SLP:

    1. I know you nearly have to give DeNiro a Big Speech, but the scene in which his character tells his son to "go get her pardner" was cringe-worthy.

    That character would have said "you are an idiot, go after her" and that's about it, not taken the opportunity to make a statement on love, life and the whole damn thing. Yes, it's a movie, but you also have to work with the characters as written.

  • Belinda Gomez says:

    Do people usually comment on films they haven't seen? He figures out she wrote the letter when he hears her say " read the signs". Being a bookie is illegal–thus the angst.

  • Erin W says:

    I did enjoy Silver Linings Playbook at its basest level: a silly, not particularly realistic romantic comedy. That it was not blazingly sexist and that the characters were not morons was a plus; that it was routinely well-acted (I thought Cooper & Lawrence both were terrific, and the age difference didn't bother me, either; I assumed Cooper was playing younger than he is) was a plus. But in the end it is just a medium-good romantic comedy. All the awards attention (save performances) is baffling to me. Some of these online reviews would have you thinking it was It Happened One Night reborn.

  • HielanLass says:

    Mind you, it's been a few years since I read the book, but… I seem to remember that his mental issue was a result of head trauma? Did I miss him being bi-polar in the book?

  • LM7 says:

    I think the movie's treatment of bipolar disorder, particularly the reactions of his parents (nervous pleading with him to quiet down/go to sleep/stay away from Nicki) was done right. Pat's "miraculous" recovery wasn't all that miraculous – I took it that after the fight with his parents, Pat started taking his meds, and that over time they started working. It was only after his symptoms seemed to recede and focus turned to the dad's issues that the movie suffered. The football game/dance competition bet and the scene leading up to it were ridiculous.

  • Josh says:

    Why do so few actors ever get the working-class Philly accent right? And why do they always THINK they have it (eg, William Hurt in A History of Violence)? It's such a distinctive thing; I spend 20 minutes in that part of the world, and my head is brimming with all the oddities of it, and yet almost no actor seems to hear it. Or maybe it's so gutteral and unpleasant-sounding that they don't want to put off audiences? But yeah, I saw Cooper on a talk show discussing how he helped coach DeNiro on the accent and how DeNiro insisted on learning it, yet neither of them actually seemed to do it in the finished movie. Also, YES, people in Philly pronounce their R's, but that's NOT the hallmark of the accent. It's more obvious in the O sound and the "urr/air" sounds and the S sound followed by a consonant (shmoke, shtreet).

  • Robin in Philly says:

    (If I recall correctly, Toni Collette did a respectable job with the accent in 'The Sixth Sense'; it's been a decade or so since I've seen the film, though, so I could be mistaken.)

  • Andrew says:

    I'd love to read your thoughts on Seth MacFarlane's Oscar hosting, Sars. I bet a lot of the other readers would, too.

  • ebstarr says:

    Love this! I thought Jennifer Lawrence was awesome (the movie's slut-shaming not so much), but even so, this post is hilarious and wittily sums up the wtf's of SLP. Not even that the movie was so terrible if you watch it as an indie romantic comedy that gets in over its head, just why in the world was it nominated for Oscars, you know?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Andrew, that's very nice of you to say. Alas, I don't have much that hasn't been said. At this point, I'm just glad that he won't be back, but as Eric Deggans recently put it on Twitter, MacFarlane says he's satirizing sexism/fattism/etc. but he actually just is those things. (Deggans's book is amazing, BTW.) And it's exhausting that it has to be pointed out that a jokey montage about movie boobies, which is fine, should not include rape scenes for the love of little apples.

  • cinderkeys says:

    1. I thought the mental illness was played … refreshingly uncomfortably, for lack of a better phrase. Compare it to Joon's cute schizophrenia in _Benny and Joon_.

    2. What Anon For This One said. The mental health system in this country is far from perfect.

    3. The love story is better handled in the book. Tiffany is still abrasive, mind you, but she's also the only person who gets Pat at all. Can't disagree with the love story not being entirely necessary/realistic, though.

    4. Bookkeeping thing didn't bug me.

    5. Belinda Gomez is right. Pat figures out the subterfuge when Tiffany repeats the "reading the signs" line that appeared in the letter.

    6. Also better handled in the book. There is no reason why Nikki would have shown up.

    7. Agreed, the happy we're-all-in-love now ending was unearned, at least in the movie.

    8. Grew up in the Midwest, didn't notice. :)

  • […] As I mentioned earlier, I didn't read any criticism after finishing movies last week, but yesterday I found that amiga Sarah Bunting of Tomato Nation totally nailed it: […]

  • Pepe Soria says:

    I have mental illness in my family, and many friends and associates are also afflicted with bipolar-disorder. It is (at times) more vacant, and not at all cute or sexy. The much lauded Bradely Cooper's performance tries too hard, and the meds tend to cause a puffiness that only Chris Tucker displays (I suppose we had to trade reality, for sex-appeal). Cooper always is lucid, and though I want to like it, he spends this performance "playing the obstacle" rather than struggling to appear normal.

  • Jim M says:

    I won't address many of your petty issues with the film but I have to ask you I you know anyone struggling with mental illness? Or more importantly several people with different diagnoses in various states of treatment. I do. I think Copper did a good job. A major component of his illness is not really believing he has a problem even if he's able to articulate it when required to. And Lawrence is dead on for a very young widow suffering with extreme grief and depression.

    I think you might want to watch the film again and take into account two things. Pat Sr. has an undiagnosed illness himself… likely bipolar with undiagnosed mood swings. He just didn't evolve in an atmosphere of treatment and learned to "white knuckle it better". Secondly the middle and third act of the movie are only possible bc Cooper is taking his medication, something he wasn't doing at the hospital. And as his medication takes effect his thinking and behaviors are more in control and that includes accepting his disorder.

    I'm just a movie goer… and an LCSW. I applaud this film for might minimizing the fear, violence and delusion of those functioning on the edge of societal norms. It isn't cute. It's awkward and often frightening. But not always. There can be long periods of calm that convince the sufferer and those around them that they are "better". This film is frank about mental illness and it should be praised for that… aside from being well acted and cast.

    If you're concerned about accents then you're just looking for problems. You know that oppressive negativity is sometimes symptomatic of…

  • Geo says:

    Movie Explained:
    Pat and Tiffany were already married.
    Pat actually caught the professors real wife in shower. He was delusional and hurt him and landed in a mental hospital.
    His delusion made him think Nikki to be his real wife instead of Tiffany.
    Tiffany loved Pat so Pat's mom and her did a setup and I guess a lot of others were involved to help Pat.
    The letter with "reading the signs" brought back Pat's memories.
    He realized this but kept it a secret for a week to catch up with the emotional turmoil he has been through and to use it as an opportunity to reconnect with Tiffany romantically.
    After the dance he walked up to Nikki and asked for forgiveness for everything.
    Rest you know…

  • Paulie says:

    Lighten up will you?? This movie is a comedy. What's your problem that you need to analyze and over analyze this movie? You would make a great character in this movie!!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Thanks for your comments — keep reading!

Leave a comment!

Please familiarize yourself with the Tomato Nation commenting policy before posting.
It is in the FAQ. Thanks, friend.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>