Judge Erich Asperschlager is crazier than you.
"One incident can change a lifetime."
It's hard to talk about Silver Linings Playbook without acknowledging that it is a personal film. One of the reasons director David O. Russell decided to adapt Matthew Quick's novel was because of his own experience with his son, who suffers from a similar mental illness as the main character. The film gave Russell not only the chance to show what it's like to live with bipolar disorder, but to give the story the kind of happy ending that doesn't exist outside of movies. The kind of happy ending Russell would want for his own son.
Facts of the Case
Pat (Bradley Cooper, Limitless) has spent the last eight months in an institution getting treatment for bipolar disorder after violent attacking his wife's lover. Although his doctors insist he stay, Pat's mother (Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom) wants to bring him home to her and his father (Robert DeNiro, Goodfellas), a superstitious man with a fanatical devotion to the Philadelphia Eagles. Pat insists that his exercise regime and new "silver linings" outlook have made him well enough to resume his marriage, ignoring the fact that his wife took out a restraining order against him. At a dinner hosted by his old pal (John Ortiz, Fast and Furious) and his wife (Julia Stiles, Dexter), Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone), a widow who is equally damaged. They become friends because of their experiences, and because they each want something in return. Pat hopes to use Tiffany to get a message to his wife. She agrees, but only if he'll help her achieve her dream of dancing in a local competition.
Silver Linings Playbook has gotten a lot of attention for its honest depiction of mental illness—from doctors, mental health organizations, and families who share these struggles. In that sense, it strikes a balance between entertainment, education, and pathos that has long eluded Hollywood depictions of mental illness. It's one of the things that makes it hard to criticize the movie. It is a project borne not of crass commercialism or award baiting, but from the passion and personal experiences of its director. But Silver Linings Playbook isn't a PSA. It's a movie with great writing, direction, acting, and third act problems that threaten to derail the whole thing.
David O. Russell's adaptation keeps most of the characters and plot from Matthew Quick's original novel, albeit with changes that move the story out of Pat's internal dialogue, and with a clearer focus on his illness. The screenplay is full of Russell's sharp, revealing dialogue. Pat and Tiffany get the best scenes, but it all works because of the care paid to the relationship between DeNiro, Cooper, and Weaver. Theirs is a family dynamic formed by decades of arguing, reconciling, and Sunday afternoons rooting for the Eagles. It feels genuine even when the plot succumbs to movie logic.
A lot of well-deserved praise and award nominations have been thrown at Silver Linings Playbook's performances. It might sound weird to call this a comeback for Robert DeNiro, but it's a meatier role than he's tackled in years. On the surface, he's a football nut whose superstitions are as deleterious as his son's mental issues, but he avoids being a cartoon character by giving Pat Sr. a depth that suggests a history of dealing with Pat's illness in ways both helpful and harmful. Underneath everything is love for his family, his friends, and his team. Jacki Weaver is every bit as good, communicating love and devotion through words and quiet action. She and DeNiro are stylized surrogates for Russell's life experience. They are fiery, flawed, and fiercely loyal.
Jennifer Lawrence won the Best Actress Oscar for her part as Tiffany, a strong broken woman who is trying to make the right choice for the first time since her husband's death. Where Pat is delusional, she owns her illness. Although she sees Pat immediately for who he is, that insight makes her own life no less of a struggle. Bradley Cooper hasn't gotten as much attention as Lawrence, but his performance is as impressive. He runs the emotional gamut—depressed and ecstatic, manic and content, delusional and lucid—all while making sure his character is not a caricature. He is not as striking in any one way as Lawrence or DeNiro, but it adds up to someone for the audience to empathize with and cheer on. Lawrence and Bradley Cooper's Pat have the same issues as other romantic comedy couples, but Russell roots the ups and downs in their shared mental instability. He deftly balances the standard movie plot contortions with the dramatic limitations of the characters. They become fast friends, but are kept apart for most of the movie by their own issues. It's a clever twist on the love-hate dynamic that's used (mostly badly) in these kinds of movies.
The great performances, sharp dialogue, and the flipping of rom-com conventions make it all the more difficult to accept the way Silver Linings Playbook seems to throw it all away for an ending that piles one movie cliché on top of another. The climactic dance contest is introduced in an organic way. It is Tiffany's personal therapy, and Pat is the one she has chosen to help make it happen. The movie doesn't stumble until the dance montage—an effective way of moving the plot forward that nonetheless glosses over necessary character development. We want to see Tiffany and Pat develop as friends. Russell wants to get us to the next plot twist, leading up to a finale with improbable stakes and awkward revelations. The dance competition sequence itself is wonderful, full of energy. The end result is an exhilarating mix of unique and expected. It's more than enough to wrap up the story. I'm not sure why Russell felt the need to add in "the bet," which was not in the book. It adds to the tension, but at the expense of the characters. The ending doesn't invalidate Pat and Tiffany's mental recoveries, but it does feel at odds to the authenticity of the film's first half.
Silver Linings Playbook arrives on Blu-ray with a faithful 2.40:1 1080p transfer of the mostly handheld digital footage. Russell employs some editing tricks to convey Pat's fragile mental state, but overall he is interested in capturing reality. That means a lot of tight shots and subdued lighting. In close-ups and in wide shots detail is sharp with a rich natural color palette and solid black levels. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is unobtrusive, but effective in delivering intimate dialogue, raucous crowd scenes, and Russell's eclectic soundtrack—a "Silver Linings Playlist" that includes Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Dave Brubeck, and Danny Elfman's score.
Along with DVD, digital, and Ultraviolet copies of the film, the Blu-ray comes with a surprisingly meaty collection of bonus features:
• Deleted Scenes (26:19): 17 scenes that were cut out of the final film. For the most part, they are just odds and ends that don't add much, although one scene suggests that before Pat's trigger song was "My Cherie Amour" it was Bowie's "Let's Dance."
• "Silver Linings Playbook: The Movie that Became a Movement" (28:35): This featurette looks at the impact the film has had in the mental health community. In addition to interviews with the cast and director, Dr. Oz talks about how the film "makes mental health accessible."
• "Q&A Highlights" (27:00): A collection of Q&A segments, with several moderators posing questions to Russell, DeNiro, Cooper, Lawrence, producer Bruce Cohen, Danny Elfman, and others.
• "Learn to Dance like Pat and Tiffany" (11:45): Choreographer Mandy Moore goes step-by-step through the dance routine from the finale. An interesting breakdown more than an actual dance lesson.
• "Dance Rehearsal" (1:22): Brief, rough video of Cooper and Lawrence practicing in the studio.
• "Going Steadycam with Bradley Cooper" (0:56): An even shorter clip of Cooper operating a steadycam for some reason.
Silver Linings Playbook is clearly a passion project for David O. Russell. He made the film in part because of his son, who appears in the film as a nosy neighbor kid. Russell brought his experience to this adaptation of Matthew Quick's novel, and in doing so captured the realities of living with bipolar disorder. He also created a believable world for his two leads to inhabit, building an unusual onscreen relationship. It's such a unique take that it's all the more jarring that the film's second half hinges on coincidence and contrived conflict from a more conventional film. I understand why Russell would want to give a difficult situation a happy ending, but it comes too easily to deliver on the promise of the story and the groundwork laid by first-class performances. In the end, though, the good outweighs the cliché. These characters deserve their happy ending, as do the people struggling with mental illness for whom the film has been a message of hope.
A well-acted inspirational film that succeeds despite its worst rom-com instincts. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Deleted Scenes
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