{in theatres} Silver Linings Playbook

Ok. *Deep breath* I have a confession to make: I did not love this movie. I’ve put off writing about this film for almost three months, and now it’s time to come clean. Please argue with me in the comments section if you love it—and know that the Academy clearly agrees with you. (But commenter David H. doesn’t.)

I think I procrastinated writing this post for so long because I wanted the reasons for my dislike of the octo-nominated movie to be more complicated. But I haven’t read the novel by Matthew Quick for an in-depth literary analysis. I don’t really have much to say as far as social commentary on mental illness goes. All I’ve got is this:

I didn’t buy it. 

The story didn’t have the internal consistency necessary for belief, and it didn’t have the momentum necessary to keep me interested. I loved (Oscar nominated) Bradley Cooper in Alias, but here, I never felt he completely settled into the role. He seemed to be Putting On Mental Illness, not playing it from within. If that makes any sense. And the shift at the end from Cooper’s wide-eyed-and-delusional wounded anti-hero to googly-eyed-but-in-control romantic lead was too fast and too easy. (Oscar nominated) Jennifer Lawrence (loved her in Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games), as a grieving young widow, was more convincing. But, again, I felt the script and direction kept her (literally) dancing on the surface of the story instead of digging into it.

I have liked David O. Russell’s previous work. He did a better job of balancing the sober and the silly in The Fighterfor example. Silver Linings Playbook‘s tone was uneven: Sometimes it seemed the film’s major players (actors, director, editor and composer) had entirely different ideas on what particular scenes were about. There were moments I genuinely enjoyed, (the main characters’ first conversation about medications, the dance competition routine) but I wasn’t thoroughly drawn in. I wasn’t engrossed. I was unsatisfied with a film I was fully prepared to love. Sigh.

What did you think about Silver Linings Playbook?

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Sarah Magill

Sarah Magill has a full-time movie habit made possible by a day-time greeting card writing gig. She blogs at Gimme Some Film and is learning to write scripts and direct. She tries to balance her screen obsession with trail running, jazz singing, book clubbing, and hanging out with The Best Golden Retriever Ever, Copa.

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Comments

  1. Brian — February 20, 2013 @ 1:58 pm (#)

    I don’t think you should feel confessional about disliking it. I really enjoyed it, but the great thing about art of all kinds is that there’s a variety for everyone to enjoy. (There have been a fair number of Best Picture winners/nominees that I did not particularly care for.) And technical/plot aspects aside, the emotional impact that something has on someone varies greatly depending on a whole slew of factors. It would be boring as crap if we all liked the same things.
    Except “Alias,” of course. We should all like the first season of “Alias.”

    • sarah — February 20, 2013 @ 2:02 pm (#)

      Yes, the first season of Alias is non-negotiable! So, tell me why you really enjoyed Silver Linings? What hooked you?

    • Brian — February 21, 2013 @ 10:59 am (#)

      I’m not honestly sure I can express what I liked about it. Partway through the movie, I remember thinking, “Well, this is fine. But I’m not sure I understand what all the fuss is about.” But by the time it ended, I turned to my friends and said, “Man, that was really @#$#% good!” At some point in there, I just got emotionally invested in the characters and was rooting for them. Could I have told you how the end of the movie was going to pan out well before we got there? For sure. But it didn’t change how joyous I felt and how much I laughed after the dance routine. Mostly it was just a thing where, by the end, I was rooting for two people with a lot of baggage to be together and help lighten each other’s load. But I tend to react more emotionally than analytically to movies, which means I tend to give them a lot more leeway in some cases. (At least in movies like this; not so much in, say, “The Day After Tomorrow” or “G.I. Joe.”)

  2. Jim — February 20, 2013 @ 6:23 pm (#)

    Them’s fightin’ words, Magill! This is my favorite movie of 2012, and several of the reasons you don’t like it are precisely why I do. Here’s how:

    Lack of “internal consistency”: I may or may not know exactly what you mean by this, but I think it dovetails with another criticism you make, that the movie’s “tone was uneven.” This is a big reason why Silver Linings Playbook feels like life instead of like most movies. Life has no internal consistency—one day we’re crazy, one day we’re not; one day it’s shit and the next it’s shinola; one moment is goofy, the next is intense, infuriating, baffling, scary, tender—and this is what David O. Russell gives us. Even the look of the movie is more lifelike than 95% of what we find onscreen. No airbrushing, a lot of natural light, interiors that look lived-in, the feel of a real place, a real neighborhood, a real office. Coldness, dampness, heat, sweat, nervousness, obsession—we feel it all.

    Similarly, that the principals may have had different ideas about what a particular scene was “about”—to me, this suggests a director whose empathies are multiple, able to inhabit every character. He did the same thing in Flirting With Disaster, where all the characters vying for their particular desired outcomes are given moments of real human behavior, real responses to each other, fucked-up though they may be. This is a smaller, less absurdist picture than that, but I never doubted the humanity of anyone in Silver Linings Playbook—even Chris Tucker.

    I love how specific the dysfunction of each character is, and how the scenes don’t build artificially or crescendo in the usual manipulated way, but feel as if they’re being lived as they unfold. I love how abruptly certain scenes end, how open-ended others are, and how scenes turn on character development that feels organic rather than forced. I love how information is withheld until just the right moment so nothing ever feels expository. I love how characters start talking from one point of view and become convinced of another by the time they’re done (e.g., John Ortiz’s brilliant scene about how great his marriage and family are, by the end of which he’s choking himself to show how it actually feels).

    I haven’t read the book, either, but I do have a copy of the script. When I got it, I went straight to a particular moment toward the end of the movie, to see if how it played was how it read. It was, and I felt it was like a magic trick, because it doesn’t look like much on paper. It’s when Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are finally walking toward their dance contest moment of truth, having had their pre-contest falling-out. The camera pulls them along as they weave through the crowd, and there’s this great, casual thing that happens when they find themselves holding hands. He looks down and says, “Wait, what’s this?” She says: “I thought you were doing it.” And he says, “I thought you were doing it.” And they keep walking, distracted and scared—they don’t LAND on it, the way most directors would have most actors do it. It feels as improvised as Marlon Brando picking up Eva Marie-Saint’s glove and putting it on his own hand. But it’s exactly as written. So simple.

    The movie is full of things like that. And is it really “too fast” for Bradley Cooper’s character to arrive where he does at the end? Not for me. We’re leaping ahead in time, summing up all the Sundays to come in one last scene. It’s prepared for by great writing, great performances, and by the story itself, which suggests how people get free of their stuckness: by getting out of themselves, by becoming awake to someone else’s life, pain, needs. What the movie says is, love heals, and it can happen in a heartbeat. It took a little longer than that, but there’s a big beating heart in this film, humanity to spare. It has ragged edges and surprise and inevitability and alarm and humor and freedom. It’s got soul. We need more movies like it. So there!

  3. DavidH — February 21, 2013 @ 1:43 pm (#)

    I’ll take 1992’s “The Cutting Edge” with Moira Kelly & D.B. Sweeney over this every day. But that’s because I like to be told a story, rather than be a fly on the wall in my neighbor’s house. I do think it comes down to individual expectations of, and preferences for, films. I thought The Fighter was realistic and painful and a wonderful story. Of course, its stars are powerhouses, whereas this one just kind of, to me, exposed Cooper and Lawrence as not-quite-there-yet. There was a great interview in the NYT with Cooper about this film. He seems like a great guy. His comment about working with De Niro was telling. He basically said, during the first full-cast table read, they were cruising along, then De Niro came in with his first line, and Cooper broke character and turned to him and said, “What?” De Niro just stared back a beat, then said “That was my line. The next line is yours.” Cooper said in the interview that this was the moment he realized he’d been “acting” and De Niro had already become the character. Though Cooper learned his lesson, I’d argue that it looks that way in the movie too. De Niro holds the whole thing together. Cooper is a circus (in this one) and De Niro is the real deal.

  4. Neal — April 21, 2013 @ 12:36 am (#)

    I agree with Ms. Magill’s review and can offer at least one reason why I disliked the film that I haven’t seen discussed here. There are several members of my family that suffer from some of the same mental illnesses we see portrayed in the film: Two are bipolar, at least one has OCD, several suffer from anxiety disorder, and so on. These are somewhat related disorders, which is one reason they often occur within the same family; they are also akin to depression, eating disorders, and a few other so-called affective disorders.

    What I can tell you about bipolar disorder, which is what we’re told that Bradley Cooper’s character suffers from, in particular, is that there is nothing cute, charming, or endearing about the sometimes violent, unpredictable mood swings its sufferers occasionally endure. In fact, it can be a frightening thing to witness in a loved one. What’s more, in “Silver Linings” we’re treated to a whole group of people who apparently suffer simultaneous episodes of violent mood swings, which I suspect would be a nightmare to live through — and not at all a “growth experience” for father and son or boyfriend and girlfriend. There’s nothing to be learned from, nor anything that can be taught to, someone who is manic, irrational, and out of control. As I watched these scenes, I wanted someone to dial 911 and ask for help (which is what I’ve had to do on more than one occasion).

    I think we can all agree that Cooper’s character is suffering from a severe illness; after all, he’s been institutionalized for its treatment and his doctors plead with him to stay on his medication. What this says to me is that poor Bradley’s not going to get better by helping dad win a bet or by learning a dance routine with his girlfriend. But this is precisely what the movie asks us to believe: Serious problems can be solved by frivolous means.

    As someone who’s seen lives destroyed by some of these very same illnesses, I’m just not buying it. Some mental illnesses cannot be “cured” and can only be “treated” — throughout one’s entire life — with persistent medication, therapy, and diligence on the part of both patient and therapist.

    I can easily imagine how finding love, learning new skills, reconnecting with one’s parents, and so on, could be important aspects of someone’s recovery, but I cannot envision actual recovery without all the hard work, determination to get better, and *medication* that the long-term treatment of such a serious mental illness requires. None of these were present in the film I saw. Paraphrasing a line from Ms. Magill’s review: The characters were dancing on the surface of the story without digging into it.