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Silver Linings Playbook is funny, entertaining and quite captivating thanks to the presence of Jennifer Lawrence. The film also makes Bipolar Disorder look like a sure path to true love and happiness. It's about getting our feelings out in the open, you know? Our afflicted young hero Pat (Bradley Cooper) is unpredictable in action and speech. When not blurting out something offensive, he's on a wild emotional jag, waking up the whole neigborhood in the middle of the night. Lots of Manic but not really any Depression. Pat's affliction has cost him his teaching job, his house and his marriage. He's determined to get them all back, even though he's still acting like a madman and has vowed to circumvent the restraining order lodged against him by his estranged wife. Apparently this is the new norm for America -- if an individual isn't deranged by chemical diets or political paranoia, they have to deal with a close relative or companion who is. Now that's surefire comedy material.
Pat talks his mom Dolores (Jacki Weaver) into signing him out of the mental hospital (unwise) and then refuses to take his meds because they make him feel fuzzy (more unwise). As the incident that got Pat locked up involved a violent attack on his wife's lover, half the people in town are deathly afraid of him. On an obsessive high swing, Pat is far too aggressive with people. The town cop (Dash Mihok) is on to him almost immediately.
The cleverly conceived Silver Linings Playbook seems to know these people well. Despite the serious subject, it's practically a screwball comedy, except that most of the jokes involve out-of-control behavior that could easily turn tragic. Pat's not alone with his mental problem, as his father Pat Senior (Robert De Niro) is more of a garden-variety obsessive, in his case channeled into sports and superstition. Pat Sr. rubs a particular handkerchief when games are on, and says he needs his son there to help generate good Ju-Ju for his team. "Crazy behavior" becomes a relative term when these people get together. Of the whole bunch, only Dolores seems sane -- unless her incessant baking is her way of not going nuts.
The movie considers domestic functionality to be an illusion, a rumor. At a dinner with some friends (themselves apparently enduring a high-stress marriage), young Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a very young widow who has reacted to tragedy with a breakdown of her own. A self-described slut, Tiffany has lost her job after having sex with everyone at her workplace. She offers the same to Pat the first night they meet, but he turns her down, as he's committed to the fantasy of repairing his marriage. Tiffany tags along when Pat goes out to run, forcing the relationship. He expresses interest, but only because Tiffany might be willing to slip a note to his ex-wife.
Silver Linings Playbook was a big hit last fall, an instant favorite that generated positive word-of-mouth. Audiences know Bradley Cooper mainly from his Hangover movies, so seeing him play a more complex character enhances his credibility as an actor. This year's top heartthrob Jennifer Lawrence gets to show herself in a lighter context, albeit one that involves a lot of yelling and screaming. The dialogue is excellent and the character support is reasonable: a PC-friendly Indian doctor (Anupam Kher) comes off as an All-American guy just as sports-crazy (now there's madness) as his anglo friends. Chris Tucker (remember Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element?) is highly amusing as a mental patient who manages to pop out of caretaking custody as fast as the mental hospitals can re-commit him. David O. Russell's screenplay asks the audience to make an emotional investment, and then rewards it with a conventional romantic high.
The show begins with scenes of family disharmony that are almost frightening. But the danger disappears when Pat takes his meds. He quickly transforms from a hyper-emotional bull in a china shop into a driven but more soulful guy. In today's movies, characters routinely batter each other with offensive, hurtful insults, slurs, slights, put-downs. Whenever one of them hears a discouraging word, they let loose with a verbal barrage. "Being upset" means not having to be responsible for one's actions. We're so grateful when they stop that we tend to give them unearned affection. Pat and Tiffany still think of themselves as victims. Pat presses on with his 'think positive' mindset, while Tiffany persists in pursuing a guy who doesn't care that she comes on to him 24/7. "What's in it for me?" wails Tiffany, when she realizes that her scheme will quite likely deliver Pat back into the arms of his wife.
In the absence of vital information it's difficult to be sure that the outwardly cute Tiffany and Pat aren't really a couple of undeserving flakes. We don't know why Pat's wife was unfaithful, unless she was indeed alienated by Pat's growing mood swings. But what was he like before? Doesn't the wife want to get that man back? We're supposed to accept that Tiffany became a sex addict "because" she lost her loving husband. Anything's possible, but such self-destructive behavior doesn't match the person we see. Tiffany's strong personality can't have been a recent development -- she does not give the impression of someone collapsing into mental chaos, not without the help of drugs or alcohol, neither of which is mentioned.
I'm not sure that the observation above even amounts to a criticism. I just felt that Silver Linings Playbook began by taking its subject very seriously, but that the problem of Bipolar disorders and emotional trauma vanishes when the conventional romance takes over. Is this the modern version of the once-revered independent film David and Lisa? In that picture, severe mental disorders suddenly get better thanks to young love and improved interpersonal communication, of the warm & fuzzy liberal kind.
We have good feelings for everyone in the film, even when the side stories verge on situation comedy schtick and yelling substitutes for talking. Robert DeNiro's dad is a crazoid sports maniac, and responds to bad economic times by taking crazy risks, yet he's adorable. Chris Tucker is so pleasant and harmless, we have to believe that the doctors that want him locked up must be nuts. Jacki Weaver's Mom is adorably sane. Unlike most everyone else in the picture, she doesn't claim the right to say whatever rude, crude, cruel or hurful thing that pops into her head. Again, the cessation of psychological hostility automatically brings on warm and fuzzy feelings. The moment Pat and Tiffany aren't aggressively putting each other down, we know they must be in Love.
Comedy-wise, Silver Linings Playbook begins with some fresh ideas and an excellent nervous tone -- but it opts for an Easy Out. The characters stay lively, and Jennifer Lawrence becomes even more delightful -- I love the way that Tiffany steps forward and convinces Pat Sr. to endorse her romance with Pat, with proof that she represents a fantastic convergence of Good Ju-Ju. But as soon as Tiffany mentions "Dance Contest", the entire final act becomes as predictable as any movie that uses "the big event" to enforce a romantic deadline. It's a little like the horrendous Little Miss Sunshine, except that the idea here of performing just well enough is a good twist: sometimes just getting out there and doing one's mediocre best ought to be celebrated as as victory. But the mechanics of the contest and the finish and the post-contest heart-tugs were all foretold half an hour before, and the suddenly-limp direction doesn't make any of it seem fresh. Tiffany runs away into the snow, like Cinderella. Will Prince Charming follow? What happened to the nervous, dangerous vibe of the first act, when Tiffany and Pat were blind-dated for dinner?
But general audiences bought into this fantasy, Cinderella and all. It's got sports humor, brawling, Flashdance action and broken hearts in need of mending. Silver Linings Playbook is one of those movies to see in a theater, where the communal feel-good vibe can upstage the fact that a very interesting story chooses such a commonplace finish.
Anchor Bay/Starz/The Weinstein Company's Blu-ray of Silver Linings Playbook looks just fine. The basic Blu-ray package (you own it, you keep it) comes with the whole bundle -- a second DVD disc (you own it, you keep it) and instructions for a Digital Download (a you-control-it Bill Hunt option) or a key to an UltraViolet hookup (good 'til the next contract renegotiation). So everybody ought to be happy.
The extras keep it light, and stress the film's star power. A long gallery of deleted scenes are presented in full quality; I wonder if an extended version will someday appear. A making-of featurette is pure EPK happy-speak but will please fans enamored by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. In another extra David O. Russell and some of the cast answer questions at a festival screening, a piece better shot than most. We see some low-res dance rehearsal footage where it's not easy to tell the dance models from the stars. Then the film's choreographer breaks down the whole final routine for dance fanatics. Are there already YouTube videos of flash mob performances?
I know a number of people who felt that Silver Linings Playbook was the most entertaining picture they saw last year. I had a good time too, and can say that the new Blu-ray won't let them down.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Silver Linings Playbook Blu-ray rates:
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