The Silver Lingings Playbook
THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, and Jackie Weaver. Directed by David O. Russell. Rated M (Mature themes, coarse language, sexual references and violence). 122 min.
This clever and original American film is the first movie in over 30 years to score Oscar nominations in all four acting categories. Its originality lies in the quirkiness with which it portrays contemporary family life in America, and it was adapted from the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick.
The film centres its plot on a disturbed, ex-mental patient, Pat Solitano, who has been deserted by his wife and charged for assaulting her lover. It tells the story of his personal search to reestablish his marriage. In the course of pursuing that goal, he meets an equally disturbed young girl, Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), and they begin to form a relationship that survives the ups and downs of mutual mental disturbance. He is bipolar, and she is severely depressed and a possible sex-addict. Mental disturbance features strongly elsewhere in the movie. Pat's father is obsessive and a football fanatic, his best friend suffers from anxiety neurosis, and his mother lives on the edge of permanently being unable to cope.
Robert de Niro plays Patrizio Solitano, his father, and Australia's Jackie Weaver plays his mother, Dolores, and all four main actors give outstanding performances. It is a bit unnerving to contemplate that the four are meant to represent family life bubbling along in modern-day, stressed America, but they are a spirited ensemble group working very well to bring the quality movie to an unexpected conclusion. Pat Jr. 's motto is "Excelsior" - to improve and excel - and the movie's title draws its meaning from his private battle against life's negativity, so as to prove to himself that he is not a quitter. He believes passionately that "if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining". Bradley Cooper gives a wonderful, finely-tuned performance in this role, and Jennifer Lawrence matches the quality of his acting in subtlety and sophistication.
The emotional themes of this movie are designed to be troubling. They deal with mental illness, marital failure, inability to cope, and profound personal vulnerability. People survive in this movie by constantly negotiating through their vulnerabilities, and the fact that this all happens in a comic way makes the film particularly quirky and unusual. The fact that the movie is genuinely funny and romantic is in no small way due to the performances of the main characters being so well pitched. All performances are delivered somewhere between the contrasting emotional mood-states of deep cynicism, and affectionate sweetness.
A movie with such a philosophy was headed inevitably toward some form of happiness and resolution of conflict. Pat Snr. wages all his money on a football game and the results of a dance competition in which his son and Tiffany have entered. The route to "Excelsior", however, is not sport and dancing, and both activities prove weak metaphors for locating happiness, indicating that the movie opts in the final run for bland and popular ways to face major problems in life. But until that point, the film is highly absorbing, and very smart.
Combating negativity in life offers a goal that has universal appeal. Resolving it so simply is not as convincing as this very different and watchable movie would have us believe.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out 31st. January, 2013.