Life doesn’t always go according to plan. I think we can all relate to that at least. It’s only when you hit rock bottom that you realize your only option is to be positive. For Pat and Tiffany, the mantra of finding a silver lining is their connecting bond of surviving their unconventional setbacks.
Silver Linings Playbook has all the qualifications to be the quirkiest film of the year on the exterior, and the most emotionally accessible on its inner core. The buzz surrounding this indie sparked during the Toronto International Film Festival when it won the People’s Choice Award, pushing Argo to runner-up. Since then, critics have become polarized by the unforeseen quirky film that juggles family, love, mental illness and every day strife so effervescently.
David O. Russell is no stranger to directing unusual flicks. With the exception of 2010’s commercially successful The Fighter, his resume consists of underground indie movies such as Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees. Silver Linings is no exception… an unconventional route at exposing mental illness and the strange bonds people form are not the ingredients of a typical Hollywood romantic comedy.
The film follows Pat (Bradley Cooper), a recently diagnosed patient with bipolar disorder who spends eight months in a mental facility after assaulting his wife’s lover. With the court’s permission, Pat is released into the custody of his parents (Robert de Niro and Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom) and moves back home to regroup. A change in tempo shakes Pat’s core when he’s introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recently widowed woman coping with depression after the loss of her husband. Her blunt, unpredictable behavior proves to be an unexpected surprise to Pat. Tiffany agrees to help Pat reconnect with his ex-wife by delivering a letter to her if Pat agrees to be her dance partner in an upcoming competition.
Here is where the mental anguish, extreme denial and delusions of grandeur begin. Pat believes that if he becomes physically fit and knowledgeable of his ex-wife’s (an English teacher) reading curriculum, he’ll find inner peace through personal work and therapy, and win his old life back. His father’s attempts to shake reality back into his head by directly telling him that she left, she’s not coming back don’t resonate with Pat.
The film is a character piece focusing on the power of reinvention. My only qualm is that I felt the characters of Pat and Tiffany needed to be beefed up more for a full character analysis. As many other critics have penned, there wasn’t enough about them that made me really care about their problems.
But the supporting cast helps fill this minor void. Robert de Niro and Chris Tucker, who plays Pat’s friend from his stint in the mental institution, have formulated their own comeback tours with this film.
After a slew of unmemorable sequels to Meet the Parents and underground indie projects, de Niro proves that he’s still the man of Hollywood in this supporting role, which earned him the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
As Pat’s friend from the “looney bin,” Danny (Chris Tucker) is another gem to this film’s greatness of supporting characters—Tucker’s humor is not only subtle and appropriate, but it’s the smartest career shift he’s taken in a decade. No sarcastic quips, gun fights, or chase scenes. If Chris Tucker’s minor role in this movie isn’t a career comeback, I don’t know what is. But not everyone agrees with my praise for his career move; Patrice Bowman from YaleDailyNews.com is one of many griping about Tucker’s racially stereotyped character.
“He’s a super-clichéd, token black character whose only important scene involves him teaching Pat and Tiffany to dance with, as he says, “a little bit more soul.” Wow.”
Every movie has a purpose, and there’s never going to be a fully unified audience of pleased critics. My hope, especially with a film like this, is that the audience might focus less on the minor aggravations and worry more about the bigger picture, the theme, what does make you happy about the film.
Calum Marsh from Slant Magazine had a disappointing take of the film:
“…serious mental-health issues are reduced to boxes to be checked off on the screenplay’s journey to the expected resolution; the fact that real-life mental illness is significantly more serious and debilitating than a wacky character trait conquered by wherewithal and good vibrations is irrelevant to a film that couldn’t care less about the particulars of reality.”
Mental illness and life in general are both idiosyncratic and strange. Real-life mental illnesses vary, and the ones that are more serious and debilitating shouldn’t be reduced to what critics consider mentally ill or nutty. The fact that Silver Linings showcases two people who appear normal, but suffer in their “wacky” minds of delusions and depression is the most relatable exposé on coping with mental illness in the 21st century. Not all films tackling serious issues need to be accompanied by a box of Kleenex and a heart-wrenching ending. This is the most uplifting film I’ve seen all year. Pat’s character is a beacon of hope that there can be positive outcomes if you keep focused on what’s important, and know that not everything can be fixed on your own. It’s okay, sometimes movies can have happy endings, because that’s what we all hope for in our own life, right?