Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

I am honestly baffled at the praise being given to Silver Linings Playbook (directed and screenplay by David O. Russell based on the novel by Matthew Quick) to say nothing of the "Oscar Buzz" that appears to surround it. Perhaps the buzz is the result of the book's/film's stab at presenting bi-polar / obsessive-compulsive disorder on screen.  Certainly, there have been plenty of dramas built around alcoholism/various kinds of addictions and even a few films about autism over the years.  But this film, honestly felt like a rather average romcom (though it perhaps intended to be more than this, but _didn't_ have the courage to be that then) only to be picked up and be inexplicably "graced" by (as is generally the case of Grace after all ...) more or less undeserved critical praise.

Don't get me wrong, I _like_ the actors.  I believe that Bradley Cooper's performance in The Words [2012] was far better than he (or that film) was given credit for (and arguably better than his performance here).  I _also_ like Jennifer Lawrence.  I was just beginning this blog when Winter's Bone [2010] came and and very quickly went, so I missed her there.  But she was _outstanding_ as Raven/Mystique in X-Men: First Generation [2011], basically "okay" (probably her biggest role but mostly "action") in The Hunger Games [2012] and even honestly quite good in the still "young" role in the recent horror picture House at the End of the Street [2012].  Then Robert De Niro is, of course, a legend.  But over all, this film feels far more like Meet the Parents [2000]/Fockers [2004] than Rain Man [1988], Clean and Sober [1988] or Shame [2011].  Consider simply last year's film, Take Shelter [2011] a film _also_ about borderline mental illness and how much more _gravitas_ it carried than this one.  I refuse to accept that Silver Linings Playbook is "as good as it gets" to take the title of another Hollywood film [1997] made about OCD.  SLP is not a terrible movie but IMHO it's not a particularly great one...

So what then is this rather average film about?  The film begins with Pat (played by Bradley Cooper) a former smalltime college professor who having been recently released from a State mental institution is now staying with his parents Pat, Sr (played by Robert De Niro) and Dolores (played by Jacki Weaver), his wife Veronica (played by Julia Stiles) who he is separated from having put a restraining order on him.

What did Pat do to warrant being placed in a State operated mental institution and even following release having a restraining order held against him by his estranged wife?  Well, coming home from work one day, he found his Department Head having sex with his wife in the shower and ... enraged (or perhaps ENRAGED) he nearly beat his now former Department Head to death.  Early in the film, we hear Pat telling the Counselor, Dr. Patel (played by Anupam Kher) who he's still required to see "I just had one bad incident in my life ..." and Dr. Patel, telling him in a calm but straight-forward voice "one bad incident can be enough..."  While incarcerated, Pat was diagnosed with having Bi-Polar disorder.

Back home now, trying to really hard to rebuild his life his shattered life on account of that "one bad incident" and still under all kinds of medication ... he _does_ exhibit _some_ classic characteristics of Manic behavior.  (1) Despite what has happened to him he remains almost "wildly optimistic."  Indeed, he calls his journal "The Silver Lining Playbook" from which the story gets its name.  And he honestly keeps believing that _somehow_ his estranged wife will take him back.  (2) Besides this almost insane and (one suspects) forced optimism, he stays up late at night, arguing with the books that he's reading (he used to teach literature...) and he tries really hard to put himself into great physical shape (again to try to win his estranged wife back).

We know, of course, that she's _not_ coming back.  And I think that more than a few of us looking at the film would wonder if he's really mentally ill.  BUT then he did nearly kill a man. BUT WHY DID HE DO THAT?  Because he caught him having sex with his wife in the shower?  BUT then why was his wife cheating on him to begin with...?

But none of this matters.  For the foreseeable future, Pat is going to be consigned to a whole lot of supervision while being prescribed a whole lot of psychiatric drugs (all with varying side-effects) with the goal of stabilizing him (rather than further destabilizing him).  AND YET he really should be happy that he's not in jail or still in a mental institution...

Into this story of a wounded, arguably shattered man, who's future is (one hopes) in the hands of competent experts at least as much as it is in his own hands, enters another wounded person.  She's a young widow named Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who was actually a mutual friend of Pat and his estranged wife.  Tiffany _also_ took _her loss_ badly and began to act out in all sorts of (apparently sexually) inappropriate ways to the point that her parents finally had her institutionalized (for depression).  And she too, now out of the mental institution has also become a veteran of a rather robust regimen of psychiatric medicines.  (When the two sets of parents set these to broken 30-something year-olds together, Pat and Tiffany share stories of what it felt like to be on Lithium and so forth ...).

So there is the story.  It's awful.  It's confused.  Honestly more than a few viewers will wonder if either of these two people were really as "mentally ill" as diagnosed.  And yet _both_ had acted out (he once, she apparently for a sufficiently long amount of time to warrant serious concern by her parents/loved ones) in _dangerous ways_.  The coup de grace of course is that Pat's father is more or less obviously obsessive compulsive but beyond being asked by the Philadelphia Eagles to stop attending their games (because he would apparently get into fights in the stadium during their games), he's never been treated for anything...

But that then is life ... and again whatever secret doubts the viewer may have about the judgements/diagnoses that society has made about all three of these characters -- Pat, Tiffany and his father -- hopefully one understands _why_ society made those judgements.

So how does this movie flow from here?  Well, it's a Hollywood movie so it has to end reasonably well.  Much does ensue.  A narrative is sort of pieced together.  But the story isn't particularly pretty and it certainly is not neat.  It ends with perhaps as much ambiguity / confusion as it began:

Is Pat really that sick and can he "get better?"  Honestly, who knows?  BUT he really did have that _one really bad incident_ and honestly, would you/could you trust him?  Sigh ...

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  1. Pat is an interesting character. He seeks to redeem the flaws in his human condition in positive ways. He tries to avoid the use of overmedication to get well, but immerses himself in quality literature and a a consistent exercise routine. Although grieviously wronged by his wife, he exercises forgiveness and seeks reconciliation of their marriage. He resists the temptations of Tina's advances and relates to her, not with physical intimacy, but with dignity and respect. They build a common goal for the renewal of their character and life. This story indeed has numerous silver linings.

  2. If the film had ended two-thirds of the way through, it would have been excellent. The last third of the story was contrived and forced to become a tired go-for-laughs sitcom. That said, the initial development of Pat's character was moving and intense. It was also good to see friends and family attempting to integrate him back into normalcy. I wonder often that might happen in the real world. Two stars.