Published by Douglas Messerli, the World Cinema Review features full-length reviews on film from the beginning of the industry to the present day, but the primary focus is on films of intelligence and cinematic quality, with an eye to exposing its readers to the best works in international film history.
O. Russell (screenplay, based on a novel by Matthew Quick, and director) Silver Linings Playbook / 2012
me begin by saying that I found David O. Russell’s new film, Silver Linings Playbook as oddly
charming as its title, with its references to good times ahead while at the
same moment suggesting events that are carefully plotted out, even theatrically
organized. The best aspects of the movie are just these tensions between the
central character’s—Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper)—equally maniac insistence
upon a happy ending to his previously troubled life, while at the same time
hinting that it may not truly “play out” that way anymore than a football game—his
equally maniacal father’s (Robert De Niro) drug of choice—might. Father and son
both bet their lives’ happiness on a series of ridiculous parlays with fate.
And accordingly, the power of Russell’s comedy is that, at any moment, it might
turn into a violent tragedy, the lightness of its offbeat tone tumbling into a
depressing revelation of the effects of mental illness. The movie, much like
Pat’s mental situation, is dependent on the highs and lows of bipolar situations.
The nightly shouting matches, the violent
encounters between father and son, and later, the unpredictable and often
brutal honesty of the woman with whom Pat becomes involved, Tiffany Maxwell
(Jennifer Lawrence), keeps us—at least throughout the early part of the film—on
the edge of seats as the roller coaster dynamics of the character interactions
are played out time and again. At some moments the quick shifts of
relationships make it almost unbearable to watch.
That is surely why the director, after he
has established those tensions, suddenly shifts in an entirely different
direction, moving his film from an intense examination of disturbing family
relationships into a romantic comedy that, at times, seems to trying to channel
Baz Lurhman’s Strictly Ballroom, as
the obsessed Pat attempts to regain his wife by dancing his way, with dance
teacher Tiffany, to health, or as he describes it into “Excelsior,” a world that
moves him always on and up. It’s there that Russell loses me. We may all desire
the happy endings that Pat expects in his self-assigned reading, but such
depictions are often difficult to
believe, and here they seem absolutely perverse.
Let us just briefly examine the
characters Russell has begun with, a rogue’s gallery of true American loons.
Pat, as I have already mentioned, has been suffering for most of his life from
bipolar disorder, and has taken himself off his needed medication. Previous to
his incarceration, Pat has nearly killed a man whom he discovered in the shower
with his wife. Even though his wife has left him and sold their home, posting a
restraining order against her husband, Pat is determined to win her back.
His mother, Dolores (the wonderful Jacki
Weaver) is a kind of passive-aggressive woman, secretly—without her husband’s
knowledge—removing her son from the institution in which it is clear he needs
to remain for a further period. Although she pretends a life of devoted
homemaking, spending much of the movie cooking and baking for her husband’s and
friends’ incessant football game gatherings, she steers her husband through the
rocky relationship with a heavy dose of comic placidity.
Her husband, Pat Sr., the obsessed
football fan, suffers from his belief in a series of illogicaltalismans of good luck, demanding that the
television controls be placed in a particular position while holding a green (he
is an Eagles’ fan) handkerchief in his hand, his younger son by his side. More
importantly, he is extremely violent, having beaten up so many fans of the
opposite teams he has been banned from the stadium. We see that extreme
violence played out as he pummels his son, the whole family loudly shouting, in
the middle of one night. Having lost his pension, the father currently survives
as a bookmaker, illegally processing small-time bets on the Eagle games in his
Pat’s new friend, Tiffany, has been fired
for having sex with everyone—11 men and women—in her office, and offers up sex
to Pat upon their very first meeting; he declines. Although attempting to now
abandon her previous behavior, she admits:
I was a slut. There will
always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that,
just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the
same for yourself, fucker? Can you forgive?
Pat’s best friend, lives in a seemingly
happy relationship with his wife Veronica and their new child, but later admits
that he daily feels he is being crushed by his demanding job and his dominant
and aggressive wife, Tiffany’s sister.
The world of Russell’s South Philadelphia
is perhaps no different from American life in any other place—which is to say
it is filled with violence, aggression, deceit, and self-deception.
Yet not only does the budding romance
between Pat and Tiffany help to focus them and, in the end, cure them of their
illnesses, but through a miraculous last-minute transformation, in which the
previous football-game hating Tiffany convinces Pat’s father that rather than
being a good luck totem, his son is a jinx. Naming all the games that Pat has
missed on account of their practicing, siting the names of the teams and the
precise scores, she convinces him that the reason the Eagles have lost to the
New York team was because of Pat’s presence, reminding him that the New York
seal contains the words Excelsior.
Even more fantastically, she convinces
Pat Sr’s football-watching buddy to bet all the money he has won from the elder
Pat on his favorite team, the Cowboys—suddenly seeming to know everything about
everyone in the room whom she has, in the terms of film, never before met. I am
willing to conjecture that it is a close neighborhood, but we have previously been given no real evidence of it.
Even more incredibly, the men agree to the bet, but only with a second
stipulation, a parlay, that includes the dance competition in which the young
couple is planning to enter. Despite their amateur status, they must score at least
5 out of 10.
The younger Pat refusing, at first, to go
along with the bet, finally agrees when he is told—a lie to which even his
honest mother joins in—that his former wife will be present, and that dancing
with Tiffany may convince her of his return to normality.
When the former wife actually does show
up to the competition, Tiffany is horrified, afraid that she will now lose Pat.
In short, we suddenly realize that her dance aspirations have all been in an
attempt to trap her new boyfriend into a permanent relationship!
The Eagles win the game of course; and the
unlikely couple is awarded the necessary score of 5! Pat Sr. winds up with
enough money to now open up the restaurant of his dreams. Pat and Tiffany
reveal their unspoken love for one another, and all’s well that ends well in
the claustrophobic living room of the Solitano house.
Bah! All right, call me Scrooge! But I
went home from this movie a few days before Christmas with a sour taste of mendacity
in my mouth.