Should I Watch..? 'Silver Linings Playbook'
What's the big deal?
Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy-drama film released in 2012 and is based on the debut novel of the same name by Matthew Quick. Adapted and directed by David O. Russell, the film stars Bradley Cooper as a man recently released from a mental hospital attempting to win back his wife while also working alongside Jennifer Lawrence, a young woman with personal issues of her own. The film also stars Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and Anupam Kher. Released to major critical acclaim, the film became the first to achieve nominations in all four acting categories at the Academy Awards since 1981 as well as numerous other awards and nominations. It was also a smash hit with audiences as it took more than $236 million globally, more than eleven times the initial budget, thanks to positive word-of-mouth and an increased number of cinemas showing the film.
What's it about?
After a number of months in a nearby mental hospital getting treated for his bipolar disorder, Patrizio "Pat" Solitano Jr is released into the care of his mother Dolores and father Pat Sr. Initially determined to win back his estranged wife Nikki, Pat Jr. is distraught to find that she has moved away and issued a restraining order against him after Pat discovered Nikki in the shower with another man and nearly beat him to death. While discussing his progress with his therapist Dr Patel, Pat insists that he has decided to look at life more positively by seeking the silver lining in every situation. Against Dr Patel's advice, Pat Jr starts to stop taking his medication and begins running.
At a dinner with his long-time best friend Ronnie and his wife Veronica, Pat meets Tiffany Maxwell - Veronica's sister who has recently lost her husband and has undergone her own mental health issues. Bonding over dinner by comparing their medication, Tiffany and Pat slowly develop an odd and platonic relationship. As Tiffany encourages Pat to dance with her at a forthcoming competition, she claims that she is able to communicate with Nikki on behalf of Pat in spite of the restraining order...
Patrizio "Pat" Solitano Jr
Robert De Niro
Patrizio "Pat" Solitano Sr
Dr Cliff Patel
David O. Russell
David O. Russell*
Release Date (UK)
21st November, 2012
Comedy, Drama, Romance
Best Actress (Lawrence)
Academy Award Nominations
Best Film, Best Actor (Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Weaver), Best Supporting Actor (De Niro), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing
What's to like?
It's rare to find a movie that actually speaks to me - previously, only It's A Wonderful Life struck such a chord with me because I identified so closely with the central character. Weirdly, Silver Linings Playbook has two - the emotionally unstable Pat and the still-grieving widow Tiffany. I understood his immediate emotional reaction to the most minute and random of stimulus and I also felt the anger and guilt Tiffany has towards herself, leading to self-destructive behaviour and a complete lack of self-awareness. The movie kinda gives me a certain degree of hope when unusual behaviours such as ours are understood and not just dismissed as someone being "crazy". I'd be lying if I was completely on board with the performances of Cooper and Lawrence in portraying their respective mental health issues but I can't fault the writing behind the characters, which ultimately helps both actors.
It's also unusual to find a film so stacked with talented actors, all of whom are knocking it out of the park. De Niro is as good here as I've ever seen him while Weaver's emotionally drained mother is a troublesome sight to behold, a woman barely keeping it together amid the whirlwind around her. Even Chris Tucker as a friend of Pats from the mental facility makes a fabulous addition to the film, demonstrating that all his shouty appearances in the Rush Hour films are well behind him now. Director Russell makes the film not just an emotional journey of two wounded souls meeting in bizarre circumstances but also makes the film feel like an old-fashioned coming-of-age story as well as a glitzy fairy-tale towards the end of the picture. You'll be rooting for these characters throughout and while the film doesn't throw too many surprises in, I was still grinning like a loon by the end.
- The film was initially a project of Sydney Pollack who began developing the film for Russell to direct. But Russell was drawn to the story because his own son suffers from bipolar disorder and OCD - it took Russell five years and twenty-five drafts to get the script right. By contrast, the shoot only took 33 days.
- The film became the first film to earn nominations in the so-called Big Five categories (Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress & Best Film) since Million Dollar Baby in 2004. Russell would achieve the same feat the following year with the film American Hustle.
- The title confused many overseas viewers which led to some interesting translations such as Optimistic Guide (Greece), Guide For Ultimate Happiness (Portugal) and Russia's My Boyfriend Is A Psycho.
- Just like his role, Cooper is from Philadelphia and is also a massive fan of the Eagles, the NFL team featured in the film. Indeed, Cooper attended the Super Bowl on February 4th, 2018 when the Eagles captured their first Super Bowl victory by defeating the New England Patriots 41-33.
What's not to like?
Granted, these are very minor complaints in the overall scheme of things but I can't discuss the movie without bringing them up. Firstly, no matter how good her performance or how hot she looks, Lawrence feels way too young to be in this kind of role. For a character who has experienced so much tragedy in her life, Lawrence's age of just 21 at the time of shooting the film threatened to wreck my suspension of disbelief in the picture as she seems impossibly baby-faced. She seems like another Hollywood cliche of the sexually adventurous young woman with loose morals and a femme fatale appeal. I can forgive this (just) because her performance is just so damned good - I completely bought her story about the death of her husband and the subsequent tailspin her life went into afterwards. But I believe this is as much about the writing behind the character as well as Lawrence's career-making portrayal.
My other issue is a bad harder to shake off. At some point in the movie, the film drops its kitchen-sink narrative and becomes a wildly improbable fantasy led by Pat Sr's gambling habits and the dance competition involving Pat Jr and Tiffany. It feels so implausible that I started wondering whether Pat Jr had started taking his meds again and the final third was the result of some fever-dream he experienced. I know that rom-coms are fated to end a certain way and no film in the history of the genre has ever finished with our star-crossed lovers apart - well, one springs to mind but I'm not dropping any spoilers here! But expecting a happy ending and getting one shouldn't be a reason to mark a film down and like I said, I loved the film just as much regardless.
Should I watch it?
Silver Linings Playbook is a semi-serious look at mental health, grief and reconciliation while still providing plenty of rom-com cliche to satisfy genre fans. With a litany of outstanding performances throughout the cast, the film offers a no-holds-barred look at issues that might not affect you but almost makes you understand why the characters behave the way they do and for someone like me, that makes this film an absolute triumph. More please!
Great For: people experiencing mental health issues, old-fashioned romantics, inspiring hope, award ceremonies, fans of the Philadelphia Eagles
Not So Great For: stone-hearted cynics, anyone expecting an outright comedy
What else should I watch?
Finding films that cover as many issues as Silver Linings Playbook is tricky, especially rom-coms. Perhaps the closest film I can think of in terms of conveying grief is the increasingly revered Sleepless In Seattle where Tom Hanks reaches across the airwaves as a widowed father who inspires reporter Meg Ryan to somehow seek him out. I also recall Hilary Swank's heartbreaking performance in the equally improbable PS, I Love You, a film that sees her widow pursue a new life via a series of letters left by her late husband.
Bipolar disorder tends to be more of a character affliction rather than a film's overriding theme. Films like The Hours and Sylvia don't dwell too much on the subject and the same is true of depression (my own inner demons) - there are plenty of films with characters suffering from depression (Leaving Las Vegas, I Smile Back, 500 Days Of Summer, etc) but it rarely seems to ever get addressed satisfactorily. It's as though depression is some sort of invisible beast for the hero to slay to get back to "normal" whereas most sufferers will tell you that it's a manageable condition and doesn't have to dominate your life- at least, this is what it means to me. The joy of Silver Linings Playbook is not just found in the realistic characters but the sheer fact that they are in a film where they are allowed to have their issues and still have them at the end.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox