AKA Happiness Therapy
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Julia Stiles, Paul Herman, Dash Mihok
Directed by David O. Russell
I almost didn’t see David O. Russel’s previous film, The Fighter, because I thought I didn’t need to see another boxing movie. I was wrong. Even with this in mind, I wasn’t all that fired up when I first heard about Silver Linings Playbook, Russell’s latest film. Over time, the hype machine built it up enough so I felt like I had to see it, and I’m glad I did, as I enjoyed Silver Linings Playbook quite a lot. My girlfriend seemed less than impressed, remarking that the song over the end credits “is upbeat to make you think it was a great movie,” and I don’t necessarily disagree. While Silver Linings Playbook is easily one of the best films of 2012, I don’t think it’s one that will stand out as a classic as the years roll on.
The film is a very interesting mix of mental illness and “boy meets girl,” making the film transcend its romantic roots and feel like more of a quirky indie drama than a romantic film. The romantic angle is always there, though, brewing under the surface in the electric, honest scenes between Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and Pat (Bradley Cooper). But by the time the film reaches its climax it can’t hold itself back any longer, embracing its true nature and delivering an ending that is nice, while clichéd and obvious. I guess there’s only so many ways for a romantic story to end.
As the film progresses, the mental issues of the main characters slowly dissipate, seeming to drift away into the ether by the time the credits roll. If only mental issues were this simple. Just find something to focus on and you’re set! It’s a movie so I shouldn’t hold it to such high standards, but when the first half is all about delving into the day-to-day struggle of these characters’ mental issues, it feels like a cop-out not to address them throughout the entirety of the film.
Football is also an integral part of the characters’ lives and the story, much to my chagrin. While I love the game itself, I’ve come to hate pretty much everything that surrounds the religion of sports so its use here didn’t draw me in and make me relate like I think it was supposed to. But not every movie is made for me, so this is ultimately an empty concern that I must deal with on my own. During the tailgate scene, though, it did get me to thinking that the use of football (specifically the obsessive fan cult that surrounds football) might have been used here more as counterpoint to the mental issues of Pat and Tiffany than simple window dressing.
Since this is a film world and not the real world, let’s assume that the characters presented as mentally ill are the only mentally ill ones and everyone else are the “normals.” But during the tailgate scene at the Eagles game, Pat meets up with his older brother and the brother’s friends immediately start in on Pat about things his brother told them specifically not to talk about. Pat does this same thing to other people a couple of times in the film. So are these friends of Pat’s brother also mentally ill, oblivious to societal decency rules, or are they just purposefully being assholes? I’m of the belief that everyone is dealing with some varying degree of mental issues (or maybe that’s my rationalization of my own issues), and perhaps sports is the thing that most people use to provide that mental focus that the film pushes as being able to keep mental problems at bay. But then there’s Robert De Niro’s character to consider, who has gone so far with his OCD love of football that his entire livelihood now depends on the game. Too much focus is as bad as no focus, so it’s about finding that perfect balance.
I also have to say that the film felt somewhat sexist in its filming of Jennifer Lawrence’s character. Numerous times during the dance sequences, the camera lingers or focuses specifically on her behind. There’s no reason for it at all, other than to sexualize her character and titillate the male audience. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it — I am a man after all — but these shots feel gratuitous and cheap, especially considering an earlier sub-plot involving her character’s past indiscretions. Are we, the audience, like the predatory guys that make booty calls to Lawrence’s character without considering her feelings? Are the filmmakers preying on the innocence of this young, beautiful actress by purposefully showing her ass in tight pants? I don’t know, but I do know that there’s nothing of the sort done with Bradley Cooper. For God’s sake, he’s wearing a trash bag for most of the movie.
But yeah, I liked Silver Linings Playbook a lot and it’s definitely one of the better films of 2012. I hate that title, though. No wonder they didn’t show it until halfway through the end credits. 🙂