Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
It took me weeks to drag myself to this movie. It just didn’t appeal. Maybe it was the trailer: He’s off, she’s off, now it’s on. It’s like what Rocky says about his relationship with Adrian: I got holes, she’s got holes, together we fill holes. That was my thought even before I knew “Silver Linings Playbook” was set—pungently—in Philadelphia.
It starts out OK. Pat (Bradley Cooper) is in a psychiatric facility in Baltimore. He’s been there eight months and we see him involved in various activities: group therapy, where he enthusiastically talks up silver linings; pill taking, where he hides his medication under his tongue and spits it out later like Randle Patrick McMurphy in “Cuckoo’s Nest.” He exercises all the time. That’s good. He has the word “EXCELSIOR” taped to his wall. That’s his mantra. He tells us, in voiceover, “What, are you kidding me? I love Sundays.”
Right back where he started from
Then his mom (Jacki Weaver) shows up out of the blue and discharges him. At this point we get a bit of backstory. He was a substitute history teacher, bipolar apparently, overweight apparently, who came home early one day to find his wife and another history teacher (full-time) in the shower together. Beat the shit out of the dude. For a long time, his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), had wanted him to lose weight and get psychiatric help, and now he’s done both, kinda sorta, so after he leaves the institution he expects them to get back together. Despite the restraining order. Despite the fact that he’s not taking his meds. Despite the fact that he’s living in the very facility that created him and his problems in the first place. He’s living with his parents.
Mom has a tendency to lie to avoid confrontations. Dad, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), is basically a rung below the son. He’s OCD: about his envelopes, about the TV remotes, about his beloved Philadelphia Eagles. He bets on them, too. He used to work at Eagles Stadium but got into too many fights there. Now he’s banned from the place. Just as Pat is banned from Nikki.
That’s one of the things I liked about “Silver Linings Playbook”: You see why Pat is the way he is, and you see that others aren’t much better. His brother, Jake (Shea Whigham of “Boardwalk Empire,” destined to play brothers), is a bit of a dick: listing off how well his life is going compared to Pat’s. His pal Ronnie (John Ortiz) lives in fear of his wife, Veronica (Julia Stiles); at times, he says, he can hardly breathe. Veronica has a sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose husband recently died. Their sex life dried up so he was coming home with some lingerie from Victoria’s Secret when he stopped to help someone with car difficulties. He got hit by a car. Now she’s fucking everybody. To make up.
But meds are meds, and without them, things fall apart quickly for Pat. He tries to see Nikki, meets up with Tiffany, desperately searches for his wedding video in the middle of the night. As things escalate, he accidently elbows his mother in the face and punches his father in the face. In his shrink’s waiting room, his trigger song, “My Cheri Amour” by Stevie Wonder, is piped in. It’s a test. It was his wedding song. It was also the song playing when he found his wife in the shower with the history prof. Pat doesn’t pass the test.
To be honest? Pat’s the most interesting guy in the room … and he’s not that interesting. But Tiffany likes him—likes likes him—since after eight months in the stir he looks like Bradley Cooper. So she cons him into partnering with her for a dance contest at the Ben Franklin Hotel. She dangles the prospect of connection with Nikki and he jumps. We watch them practice, talk, argue, practice, yell at each other. It’s not bad.
Then it all falls apart.
Patdoesn’t fall apart. He’s actually taking his meds now. It’s everyone around him. Particularly his immediates.
Pat Sr. wants to start a restaurant—something about Philly cheese steaks—and he bets all the money he’s been saving on an Eagles-Giants game, to which, for good luck, he sends Pat. That’s why Pat and brother and friends are tailgating, having a good time, when a busload of Indian-Americans, including Pat’s shrink (a face painter), shows up, and the party grows. But some racist clowns can’t deal, a fight ensues, Pat gets involved, he’s banned from the place, the Eagles lose. Pat Sr. blows up. It’s one of those scenes where half the neighborhood is in the house, and everyone’s yapping about stupid shit, and I wanted to get out of the place. Can’t imagine what Pat felt. And we can’t. He’s suddenly the sanest man in the room. Then the movie doubles down on Pat Sr.’s disease. Tiffany encourages him to go double-or-nothing on Eagles-Cowboys plus Pat and Tiffany have to get a “5” in the dance competition. If both things happen, Pat Sr. gets his money back.
Right there I lost all interest. For most of the movie, the thrust is Pat and his problems, which the film acknowledges. For the last third, the focus becomes Pat Sr. and his problems, which the film doesn’t acknowledge. Plus, a “5” in the dance competition? You think you have to attach a number to dance to get us interested?
Long story short: Nikki shows up at the dance, Tiffany drinks, but they dance OK for them. The numbers come in: 4.8, 4.9, 4.9 … 5.4! For a grand total of 5! Pat Sr. gets his money back! (Which he’ll lose again next week?) Tiffany runs away when she sees Pat with Nikki! But, wait, he’s only whispering to Nikki! We know he loves you! And he does! And he runs after you to say so! And you kiss! And you kiss at the end of the movie, on a Sunday, football Sunday, which Pat tells us he loves! Like he said at the beginning! Full circle!
Earlier in the movie, after Pat read Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” and lamented the sudden sad ending and its lack of a silver lining to his parents, he said the following:
The world’s hard enough as it is. Can’t someone say, “Hey, let’s be positive? Let’s have a good ending to the story?”
Someone does say that. They say it all the fucking time.