Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything — his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months is a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat’s parents want is for him to get back on his feet-and to share their family’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.
eyelights: Robert De Niro. Jacki Weaver. Jennifer Lawrence. the supporting cast.
eyesores: Bradley Cooper. the conventional ending.
“The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday. That’s guaranteed. I can’t begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else. But guess what? Sunday’s my favorite day again. I think of what everyone did for me, and I feel like a very lucky guy.”
I had never wanted to see ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. I saw it because we were in a bind: my partner had suggested going to the movies, so we lined up to go see ‘Life of Pi’. Unfortunately, it only played in 3D and she can’t watch 3D movies. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, with nothing else playing at that time, we ended up going to this one instead.
I knew very little about it, quite frankly. I had only seen the trailer a couple of times and also got wind that Jennifer Lawrence took home the best actress statuette at the Academy Awards (I didn’t actually check the Oscars’ awards listings until way after the fact). Quite frankly, the trailer put me off, and I hadn’t seen Lawrence in action yet – so there was no draw.
The main impediment, for me, was Bradley Cooper. I know that he’s hot sith (sic) lately (especially since ‘The Hangover‘) and that the ladies tend to like him a lot, but I was unconvinced that he had the acting chops to take on a dramatic role such as this one. In fact, the trailer seemed to confirm my doubts; he seemed out of place, goofy-looking with his shorn pate.
The fact is that he wasn’t all bad; I’ve certainly seen worse. But he came off like a fraud when surrounded by the caliber of actors to be found in this film: Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Jennifer Lawrence, and most of the supporting cast, were all in excellent form here. And this isn’t just some dopey comedy; Cooper couldn’t simply coast on his charms.
‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is an actor’s picture: it’s primarily dialogue-based, its conflicts are internal and relational, and it has a deep emotional core that is wholly dependant on the participants’ delivery. I can see how strong performers would be drawn to this film, given the material. Of course, having said that, I can also see how weaker ones would see this as an opportunity to gain credit.
Many will counter that Cooper was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in this picture. That may be so, but it doesn’t make it relevant: countless award nominations are undeserved – and that’s a subjective call, anyway. In my estimation, Cooper had no place there: even in the most intense moments, half of the time it looked as though he was about to crack up, a smile barely concealed.
Jennifer Lawrence, however, is another story: she gave her part life. While she wasn’t exemplary (Yes, even though she won the damn award! And, yes, I quite liked her: she reminded me of a friend of mine, so the familiarity was pleasing to me), she was credible; I have no bones to pick with her performance. Quite frankly, in some ways, she was a good match because Cooper wasn’t entirely outgunned.
It’s in his scenes with Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver that Cooper is totally overshadowed.
The trio play a dysfunctional family: the bipolar son, OCD father and the long-suffering mother and spouse. It’s an incredibly intense dynamic because the son tends to go off the rails unexpectedly, at any time of day, behaving irrationally, whereas the father is extremely obsessive-compulsive and superstitious, making him an oppositional force and a control-freak.
The mother seems normal, if weary, but she has to contend with constant erratic behaviour from each of them, as well as their incessant clashing. Weaver paints the portrait of a trapped but patient person, doing her best to keep the peace – and her sanity. Meanwhile, De Niro delivers his strongest performance in years – not quite as memorable as in ‘Goodfellas‘ and ‘Ronin’, but nearly.
I found the interplay between them realistic and could even relate to it somewhat, having experienced or seen similar dysfunction in my life. So, while the film was meant to be dramatic, if not troubling, I was able to find the humour in much of it, laughing knowingly at the irrational behaviour on display while other cinemagoers probably sunk into their seats – disturbed by the scenes… and the fact that someone was cackling along.
I bought into most of ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, but the ending was difficult to swallow for me, being too saccharine and conventional for my taste; it gave us a feel-good wrap-up that defies all credulity all the while ripping off genre conventions wholesale. Frankly, I could done without the last shot, a spinning smooching shot – something done to death and utterly out of place after two hours of psychological quagmire.
Perhaps it was the filmmakers’ intention to lift things up slightly in the end, to leave the audience with an ounce of hope after it all (The fact that they changed much of the novel to make the story more Hollywood-friendly suggests that this was the intention), but they could have done this without the falsified last-minute conflict and afore-mentioned cheesy close.
I’m no writer, but here’s is what would have preferred to see:
After having surpassed all expectations (except the audience’s) at their dance routine, Pat, Tiffany, their friends and family leave the dance hall, pride written on their faces. Everyone starts to talk amongst themselves, but a veil of silent reflection falls over Pat and Tiffany.
As the group walks out of the building, and down the staircase, everyone and everything else slowly blurs into the background as the focus goes on Pat and Tiffany, quiet but evidently content. A few very subtle notes from the movie’s theme song or of “My Cherie Amour” underscores the scene.
In a medium shot, from the front, we see the couple side by side, walking to the last step and pausing. We close-up to their faces: He gives her a shy look. She smiles. He smiles back. We cut to a close-up of his left hand and her right one, at their sides. She reaches for him, his hand extends. Their hands clasp firmly. Fade to black.
Personally, I think that following the book more closely is almost always the best option. But, given that this movie clearly doesn’t, to me a more suggestive approach would have been the best way to merge the intentions of the filmmaker and the author at once. And it would have given audience a happy ending without giving them something worn well beyond comfort, to the point of embarrassment.
In the end, “Silver Linings Playbook’ deserved some sort of quiet dignity to bring closure to what was an oft-times tumultuous affair. Because, for all its emotional turmoil, it is pretty rosy picture; in effect, it’s a feel-good movie about people who don’t feel so good.
Date of viewing: March 8, 2013