Silver Linings Playbook(2012)
Dir:David O. Russel
This film hums with a rhythm that resonates with our soul.The tone of the film which has a mentally ill couple as its centre, is pitch perfect.The characters that inhibit this romantic comedy are extraordinary, their appetite for life enormous, and their energy levels bubbling over to add a unique effervescence to the mix. David O. Russel directs this film without a false step. He is skating on very thin ice indeed, this is a very difficult film to pull off.It is also a bit of a fairytale which means it must have a happy ending, something real life people who suffer from even a fraction of the mental demons these characters harbour, rarely experience.
The silver lining that Bradley Cooper (Pat) sees is not so evident to us.He is full of life and bluster but ready to implode any moment.He does not like his medicines, they don’t make him feel well.He wants to literally run the cobwebs out of his mind.He likes to wear a garbage bag on top of his track suit to sweat more.Now tell me, does that not deserve a costume Oscar? Well actually it doesn’t, if the writer of the film dreamt it up.
Pat is mentally ill, and has been for some time. He had a meltdown when he discovered his wife Nikki in the shower with another man, an unattractive one at that, and he went completely berserk, nearly killing him.That landed him in a mental institution where he spat out his pills.He comes home, probably not yet ready for the world, but his feisty mother Dolores( an adorable Jackie Weaver) would have it no other way.His father Pat Sr. (Robert De Nero) is not so convinced, but loves his son enough to not press further.He is a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan, and his involvement in the game extends to betting his meagre fortune on it.A lot is said about “juju”, the good forces that can be marshaled by holding a particular green handkerchief in your hand, and watching the game with legs crossed in a particular fashion.Pat becomes part of the juju until he meets Tiffany(Jennifer Lawrence), who is also undergoing therapy. She lost her husband in an accident and in the aftermath of his death, turned into a sex addict, a very delicate situation in a small town.
Pat and Tiffany make an amazing onscreen pair, both are sane enough to realize that the other is something special.Pat’s therapist is Dr. Cliff Patel played by the wonderful Indian actor Anupam Kher who advises him to have a “strategy” to fight his condition.When they meet Cliff puts on a Mettalica song that was playing when Pat discovered Nikki in the shower.The good doctor wants to asses his progress but ends up with broken waiting room furniture.Pat still obsesses over Nikki, and trains his energy on getting her back.
The film plays like a finely tuned comedy drama, where Pat and Tiffany are a combative couple in a teenager sense, except that they have had very terrible grown up experiences. Pat Sr. supplies a lot of endearing moments, De Nero is a veteran of playing droll old men, unreasonable and charming to the audience, but still managing not to drive their spouses into madness.
Bradly Cooper is pitch perfect as Pat, he has played characters that are very improbable but completely likable, from The Hangover franchise to the recent literary drama The Words, where his performance was the only silver lining of that film.Jennifer Lawrence morphs into a grown up adult from the teenager of Hunger Games and her turn here pulsates with a raw energy that must have something to do with her age.This film has four acting Oscar nominations which tells us that the telling of this very sensitive and fragile story owes a lot to its stellar performances.
David O. Russel has a knack for finding humor in very unlikely places, the way he did in Three Kings, in the middle of the mess of the Persian Gulf War.This movie is based on a novel by Mathew Quick and Russel earns an academy nomination for adapting it into a great screenplay.The film is also nominated for editing which is perfect here, one wrong move and the spell can be broken.The cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi is unglamorous and fluid with a muted colour palette.
There are several cinematic approaches to mental illness ranging from One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest to Sling Blade with comedy being the most difficult.Film characters are always cranked up to be a little more of everything and most can be diagnosed with one mental condition or the other in the hands of an enterprising shrink.So there is a tendency to present the mentally ill as being over the top.Pat and Tiffany are over the top at times but so is Pat Sr. but he is not flagged as a threat to society.There is a thin line between being sane and being a cash cow for a Manhattan therapist and Silver Linings Playbook treads that line with the panache of a tap-dancer. I call this film Love-songs from Prozac Nation!