DIRECTED BY DAVID O. RUSSELLSTARRING: BRADLEY COOPER, JENNIFER LAWRENCE, ROBERT DE NIRO, JACKIE WEAVER, JOHN ORTIZ, JULIA STILES, SHEA WIGHAM, PAUL HERMAN with CHRIS TUCKER and ANUPAM KHER
There’s something good and great about putting all your cards on the table. It also tells me whether I’d want to play my hand as part of an informed decision. It’s double-edged; it’s also the only way to go. The world can thrive on lies, deceit and sleights of hand. I wouldn’t want to. I put all my cards on the table. I’d expect you to do that as well. Fairness could be over-demanding like that. And it’s only fair that it is, if you think about it.
‘the Silver Linings Playbook’ is a lot like Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence). She’s the page-turner on David O. Russell’s script. She’s the meta-statement he makes through the film. She’s an active part of the rhetoric as well. I’d get back to that at a later point on this review, but accepting her is similar to accepting the film; it’s too tempting not to. By that I don’t mean a one-woman no-show. The film is anything but that. And, nonetheless, this is a woman who had held her whole office to ransom before she went to war with herself. The promos call it ‘sex-addiction.’ I think that’s a bad term to call the situation itself, to begin with, let alone hers. But she has a reputation.
Patrick ‘Pat’ Solitano (Bradley Cooper, in his first ever acting role) sticks his neck out to change that reputation of hers. He’s fresh out of a mental facility and is diagnosed as having been undiagnosed bipolar – Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) does that diagnosis for the audience. Their interaction is convenient. You come to learn that Pat - previously a history-sub at the local school - had assaulted the history teacher whom his wife Nikki (Brea Bee, unspeaking) had an affair with. You come to learn there’s a trigger (Zoolander, anyone?) – ‘My Cherie Amour’ by Stevie Wonder – their wedding song that was, ironically, playing when he caught them in the shower together. You come to learn he has a history with delusion and violence, in the fact that he almost beat the man to death. You come to learn there is a restraining order.
This is as useful as any Indian actor has ever been in a Hollywood motion picture.
Oh, and even though you don’t really need Dr. Patel for that, you come to learn that Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) is just about as crazy. And when I call Pat crazy, I don’t refer to his diagnosed condition as much as I refer to the method he chooses to fight it. It’s called ‘Excelsior’ – a Latin term that translates to ‘ever upward’ – as American as it can get. In fact, it’s supposed to be the motto of New York city, something the Eagles should’ve known before they let Pat hit the stands in their game against the Giants. Pat intends to recycle his negative energies, put them in the garbage bag he wears, and transform them into positive energies. Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) tries something similar with his ‘seven-step success’ plan in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, if you remember. Both films represent as much as they parody the American household.
Russell does a good job fleshing out the characters that make the household and beyond, most of whom have a mix of craft and genuineness to back them, in terms of actors and performances. Jackie Weaver, as the ever-frightened Dolores Solitano, Pat’s mother who shuttles between two madmen – one who bets his life and future on a Football team, the other finding himself entangled in such a wager – is a revelation. Russell won Melissa Leo the Supporting Actress Oscar, last time around. Ms. Weaver is among the lot this time –I’m glad she is. It’s hard to play married to De Niro, the comic. You’ve seen Blythe Danner patronize him in the ‘Meet the Parents’ series. There are those Hollywood type parents who win your love with the way they screw up. Weaver, however, sets her own unblemished record. She inspires sincerity in a film that makes an effort to live up to hers.
Now, I spoke of Pat’s entanglements – there are two. Pat Sr. who wants father-and-son time on his own holds one end of the line. The other belongs to the ex-wife inside Pat’s head – a commitment he had made to himself. To help him transcend, Tiffany entangles herself in both. What follows is two Hollywood clichés – of the messenger and the guiding light – in a film that states quite clearly it doesn’t want to play out like Ernest fucking Hemingway wrote it.
Here, I come back to my first point on how the film spreads its cards out on the table for everyone to see. It looks promising. You look at yours; you play Pat to its Tiffany impersonation. You have your own ex-wives and Father-concepts, right? Films have come and films have gone that have told you it’s okay to be crazy – the whole world is. ‘the Silver Linings Playbook’ falls in line. It skates on thin ice with denser material below. Like I said, there’s an ex-wife in the picture. We don’t really know the reality in that relationship. Nikki (unspeaking, as I deliberated) doesn’t have her say. Pat has his. It’s David O. Russell speaking, actually. He wants his happy ending. Tiffany deserves it. Jennifer Lawrence, the hottest choice to play self-confident-but-fragile these days, deserves it too.
Still, I find myself in disagreement. Maybe because I like my Hemingways and Alexander Paynes intact. Maybe because (and this is crucial) by putting itself out there, saving nothing for mystery, the film happened to reduce itself to an option than a mind-instructed, necessary pursuit – pretty much the risk that Tiffany runs, half the time. There’s a voice inside my head that said “the worst I can do right now is consent to marry you,” on Pat’s behalf. Maybe I think the girl doesn’t deserve that either. And who said 'sex-addiction' finds its cure in high-fidelity? Maybe I wanted Pat to be put in that spot, where he is one option among many, for Tiffany. Maybe the right one, but still - an option.
Or maybe it’s just a mood-swing of mine. And maybe I would shed tears of joy watching the film another time, when I’ve taken my meds.