The Silver Linings Playbook

tn_silverliningsTHE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a quirky dramedy-romance about people with mental problems, based on a novel I guess. That’s not my usual beat, but I like this writer-director, David O. Russell (THE FIGHTER, THREE KINGS) and there’s a small part for Chris Tucker, his first non-RUSH HOUR since RUSH HOUR, believe it or not. That’s 14 years! I like Chris Tucker, so like these characters with their mental illnesses, you’re just gonna have to deal with it.

Bradley Cooper stars. He was a natural to play Face in THE A-TEAM, but here he’s Murdoch. His mother (Jacki Weaver from ANIMAL KINGDOM) takes him out of a court-ordered mental facility where he’s been since an incident that caused him to lose his wife and house. He comes to live with Mom and OCD, Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed Dad (Robert DeNiro) while he uses a self-prescribed regimen of exercise, reading and positive thinking to attempt to win back his wife. Although the restraining order does prove to be an obstacle.

It’s immediately clear that this man is delusional to even want to talk to this woman, so enter the other woman, Jennifer Lawrence as a sister of a friend of the ex-wife, who he meets during his stalking and learns that she’s had her own mental breakdown and history of depression. In reality this could be a mess but in a movie they seem meant for each other and also I never realized how hot Lawrence was. There is an emphasis on form-fitting outfits, butt, etc. If we didn’t already know he was bi-polar we’d say he was crazy for not going for her.

Russell doesn’t exactly have a reputation for sanity himself, and I heard in an interview that he wrote this to give hope to his son who deals with similar issues. Russell does a great job of building to these freakout moments. The dialogue gets faster and more fractured, the background chatter and soundtrack clutter create this cacophony and it gets stressful just to watch, you can see why he would start yelling. It was funny to hear different people in the crowd sighing in exasperation at 5 or 6 points in the movie.

mp_silverliningsI think it’s somewhat guilty of that thing movies do where mental illness is treated as kinda cute and lovable. For example it’s played for uncomfortable laughs when he tries to chat up and hug people who are terrified of him. And the cartoonish motif of uptight elderly neighbors always looking out their windows to see what the commotion is seems to imply that he’s some misunderstood underdog and they’re silly to be afraid of him just because he beat a man almost to death less than a year ago and was released from the hospital against the advice of his doctors. Still, the intensity of these “incident” scenes goes a long way to showing how shitty and debilitating these types of conditions are, which is the overall emphasis of the story. It’s more “these are people too, even though they’re crazy” than “aren’t crazy people wise and adorable?”

There are some odd tonal shifts. I don’t see it as a comedy overall, but it suddenly turns more silly late in the game and like I HEART HUCKABEES it starts having all these scenes where every character is together at the same time – the two leads, the parents, a brother, a friend, even his psychiatrist, all in a conversation together or walking around in a group.

There’s also a left turn into STEP UP territory (part 1 specifically), with her needing him to fill in as her dance partner for a contest, and it even has the thing where they’re working real hard on the big impossible move that they can’t quite stick. But in this version it’s not set up for the climactic triumph, it’s for a good cheap laugh.

I like the contrast between son and father. Dad has all these game-watching rituals and superstitions that he takes way too seriously, and you can tell it’s a pain in the ass for the whole family. It seems more annoying than dangerous. We don’t see him exploding into anger except when his son accidentally knocks over Mom during an episode, so that one was justified. But a couple times we hear that he’s banned from Eagles Stadium for getting in too many fights. He might be more dangerous than his son, from the sounds of it.

Tucker’s role is small, only showing up in a couple scenes, but he’s funny and likable and it’s nice to see him on screen again. Julia Stiles is also good in a small role as the sister. She’s the poster child for an older sister to be jealous of and kind of hate (she already has huge framed photos of her new baby hanging all over the house) but she seems mostly well-meaning. And she has a good resemblance to Lawrence. I believe them as sisters.

Another small role I liked was Dash Mihok (Felicity) as the cop stuck with the thankless job of tailing Cooper to make sure he doesn’t bother the ex. Officer Keogh seems like a good guy, not happy to have this task but trying to do the right thing. I wish Russell had left out the one little part where he’s actually a sleazeball.

An in-joke you might miss: on Halloween they walk by a movie theater and the marquee says “MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN.” It’s in because Cooper was the star of that, it’s a joke because the movie was a notorious flop and although I sort of liked it I don’t see it as a likely candidate for a theatrical revival.

I think this is a pretty good movie, but not a great one. It seems to me like a mainstream movie that Russell tweaked to fit his sensibilities, but that’s not really the case. It was a pet project he wrote and tried to get off the ground before he did THE FIGHTER, which actually was a for-hire job. I don’t think he figured out how to make it work as well as his other ones, but he still came up with something worth watching.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 at 1:57 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

13 Responses to “The Silver Linings Playbook”

  1. Yah, already saw it. It’s a good movie, albeit a slight one. I liked Chris Tucker in this too, but him playing a recovering mental patient isn’t much of a reach. The characters of Smokey, Rudy Rock and Detective Carter weren’t exactly subtle portraits of restraint.

    I do like it that Russell worked into the mix how the song My Cherie Amour by Stevie Wonders sets off Cooper’s character (watch the movie, and you’ll see how & why), but Clarence Carter’s Strokin’ would’ve been sooooooo much better (again… you’ll see).

    I also heard (perhaps true, perhaps not) that the original ending mimicked the conclusion of Slumdog Millionaire, with all the movie’s characters gathering on the streets [street?] of the Philly suburb where it takes place, and breaking into a spontaneous rendition of Men With Hats’s Safety Dance. Maybe it’ll be on the Director’s Cut DVD.

  2. A woman at work said she had to walk out of this because the bipolar moments hit too close to home. That’s an achievement.

    I wish the movie had maintained the screwy vision that everyone has issues to one degree or another, with the hint that society sometimes supports a few of them. It’s enjoyable watching where the characters wind up, but it’s a lot more conventional / less interesting.

  3. I honestly had no interest in this film until I found out that David O. Russell directed it. There’s just something about Bradley Cooper that gets on my nerves. He looks like he should be cast as the douchey, aristocratic villain in an 80s teen comedy.

  4. I’m a big NFL fan, and I’ve believed that DeSean Jackson is the man since he was with the University of California Golden Bears, so I couldn’t help but be pleased with how surprisingly sports-oriented this movie is.

    And you all know I love me some STEP UP-ness, so I enjoyed that subplot as well, until it turned out that the protagonists are actually shitty dancers (spoiler). I’m convinced Chris Tucker’s purpose in his dancing training montage was to try to bounce Jennifer Lawrence as much as possible; in his mind and in mine, we echoed Dave Chappelle in that Mazda commercial spoof, like, “C’mon, titty, c’mon titty, pop on out, now!”

    So there’s a lot to enjoy here as a dramady with interesting characters, and you might initially think there’s something serious & dramatic about the whole mental illness angle, but unfortunately the film forgets about the messier complications of the characters’ problematic behavior & chemical imbalances as soon as it’s more convenient to just make room instead for the happy endings.
    It starts interesting, with seriousness & little compromise in how it portrays their issues & the effects on family & neighbors, then it devolves into RomCom bullshit
    (and a mildly humorous subversion of “The Big Championship Game” sports movie formula bullshit)
    and, worse, by abandoning the more serious mental health issues, manages to insult the audience that had followed along with the challenges presented at the beginning of the movie. It’s not unlike FORREST GUMP in that respect, but at least Zemeckis’s movie knew it was a comedy-fantasy the whole way through.

    SLP is still an okay movie if you don’t think too much about it. If you watch it with a significant other, be prepared to confront some awkward questions, like
    “How many sexual partners have you ever had?”
    “And is that too many?”
    “Am I gross & damaged in your eyes now?”
    “Why won’t Bradley Cooper take off that garbage bag so I can see his chest?”
    “Why don’t you look more like Bradley Cooper?”
    “Fuck you, why don’t you look more like Jennifer Lawrence?”
    and so on.

  5. I was only really aware of this from some TV ads that don’t really mention the mental health aspect at all. One thing that seemed a little off about the pairing for me though is the age difference. Maybe it’s just because of Lawrence playing MysTeenque and Catfish Jellybean, but he does seem a little old for her. Not like a father (though technically, with a 16 year gap, he could be), more like an older brother thing.

    Did you ever see Cooper and DeNiro in LIMITLESS, Vern? I thought it was a decent little sci-fiish thriller, though it veers a little too much towards “intelligence makes you superhuman” territory, even if being supersmart doesn’t make you any better at remembering to pay your loanshark in a timely manner.

  6. I have not heard of this one, but it sounds pretty interesting, thanks for bringing it to my attention Vern

  7. They do have a brief comment about the age difference, which was enough for me.

  8. I have the theory that this movie was Russell’s homage to the whole “classic book remake in high school” wave of the 90s/early 00’s. The plot boils down to “boy won’t shut up about his ex/unattainable girl while not noticing the much hotter girl right next to him”. (Granted, this is obviously a plot of many non-high school movies, including the recently revisited Strange Days!) But then the bulk of the drama comes from Shakespearean intrigue nonsense involving handwritten letters, which may or may not be delivered to intended parties in may-or-may-not-be sealed envelopes. On what planet would shit like that happen in 2012? Then the climax takes place at a talent show/performance, like most of those movies. Oh, and Julia Stiles is in it too. It’s like Russell took all the trappings of those movies, set it out of high school, and dropped different, more troubled characters in it.

    But it works, damnit. I actually got misty-eyed at the predictable climax; the chemistry and the writing and the acting is so good that I told people “it’ll make you actually want to see Jennifer Lawrence end up with Bradley Cooper, believe it or not” This may be one of my favorite movies of the year, and I’m hoping Vern might now give Hunger Games a chance. Lawrence proved this year she’s the real deal.

  9. I love Midnight Meat Train!

    Larry – a spontaneous song and dance ending would be a mimicry of Beat Takeshi’s Zatoichi, which Slumdog shamelessly stole the idea from (unless omeone did it earlier and I just didnt see it)

  10. SPOILER – This is the actual ending of the film


  11. I love neal2zod’s interpretation of SLP. The clever meta-casting of Julia Stiles as the older, more mature, more settled-down sister seals it as brilliant.
    And I’ll add something I read somewhere (don’t know if it’s true), that the Jennifer Lawrence character in the book is much older, like well into her 30s, which makes more sense when you consider her painful widowing and the notion that she’s developed a past & reputation of having had too many sexual partners. Her sluttiness would be harder to look past if she weren’t still so cute & barely of drinking age, like in the movie, but apparently Russell needed someone to be the high school girl-friend character.

  12. Lawrence shows great potential for mega-acting in that diner scene.

  13. Late to the party again. What else is new…

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere, is how selfish Tiffany is. I mean, seriously, the lenghts she goes to only to be able to participate in that dancing contest. Manipulating Pat the way she does (not saying more, don’t wanna spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet), and even drive his father to take a bet that could very well ruin the family financially… it was hard for me to believe in her love for him, with all the crap she’s doing. But what irritated me most of all was that her behaviour was never discussed. It’s like, they hoped we wouldn’t notice. Other than that, I really enjoyed it, mostly thanks to the great performances, and some great individual scenes.

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