Silver Linings Playbook (2012), dir. David O. Russel, Academy Award nominee for Best Picture
The protagonist, Pat Solitano (Bradely Cooper), who suffers from bi-polar disorder and stress induced mood swings, has just gotten out of a mental institution for nearly beating a guy to death for sleeping with his wife. To make things worse their wedding song served as the music background for this little act of betrayal. However, in the course of the last 8 months spent at the rehab (prior to the opening scene of the film), Pat has managed to forgive and he is now determined, more than ever, to pull himself up and get his wife, Nikki, back. In order to do so, he starts of by getting in shape and reading her entire high school reading syllabus (she’s an English teacher ) starting with Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, which is to my mind the most hilarious scene in the entire film and one of the most honest ones. In the course of next few days Pat reluctantly goes to dinner at his friend’s house where he meets recently widowed Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has gone a little “crazy” after the death of her husband. What makes this interesting is that neither one of them, Tiffany nor Pat have a filter and their social skills are so poor its not even funny. However, their uncensored dialogue is somewhat problematic. Sure, the fact that they don’t sugar coat anything that comes out of their mouth seems very honest and genuine but at times it is far from it and it spills over into yet another extreme. Forced, it becomes a bit over the top. Anyways, shortly after meeting, Pat enlists the help of Tiffany to help him get Nikki back. She reluctantly agrees but she needs a favor in return. Tiffany wants Pat to perform with her at a ballroom dance competition. He originally agrees but then he changes his mind and we get to see his selfish side when he questions his part of their agreement. Tiffany breaks down how she is always helping people and gets nothing in return, which causes Pat to break down too and finally agrees to help and thus it begins: the curious and extremely complicated friendship-dance partnership-relationship.
The problem of this film, and this has to be said, is that it promises more than it delivers, particularly in the field of various types of psychological breakdown that this film is built on. Apart from two main characters who are suffering from different types of disorders, we have Pat’s father Pat Sr. Solitano (Robert de Niro) who is a National Football League “enthusiast” with a restraining order of his own (unlike his son who is not allowed to see his wife, Pat Sr. is not allowed to enter the stadium ever again in his life for beating another fan almost to death), borderline gambling addict running a bookie sideline and he is suffering from obsession-compulsion. However, Russell is not really concerned with these problems as it turns out at the end. Sure, the romance is the point of this film but what makes this film different from the rest of rom-com out there is that film starts of on a different note. It is built around the characters, whose complexity had the power to turn this into something different – imagine One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) in a romantic comedy genre. However, this didn’t happen. It promised with the first brilliant half an hour, perhaps even an hour, but then it fell flat into a trap of far too many clichés. It was as if I was watching two films directed by two different people featuring the same characters and actors; Silver Linings Playbook I (establishing the characters and their problems/disorders, tackling all the right questions, setting up everything prior to the dance competition) and Silver Linings Playbook II (events that take place after the emotional maturity shift). Since the very beginning we know that Pat will literally transfer his emotions from Nikki to Tiffany but this shift in Pat Jr. (incited by Tiffany and love, what else?), was so abrupt at best and so poorly handled at worst. However, there was a very good moment on a dance floor where instead of falling into another cliché of learning how to dance perfectly within the matter of days as we have seen in number of other films, Pat and Tiffany absolutely suck at the dance floor. And I loved that.
All in all this is a good date movie that doesn’t offer the sophistication it thinks it does, and it is not as smart as it think it is, but is as enjoyable and good-natured as the genre or romantic-comedy itself requires.
Is it worthy of the Oscar nomination? Definitely not. Is it better than The Master? Not by far.
P.S. I borrowed the title from a friend, Maja Ciric, who by accident wrote Silver Linings Flatbook instead of Playbook, which I thought was the perfect way to describe this film….
Text written by: Monika Ponjavic