Silver Linings Playbook Review
If One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Juno had a baby, she would look something like this. It doesn't make a dramatic case for neurotic people and how they are abused by society, though it still makes them into underdogs who compel audiences to root for them. It breezes through the daily life of these individuals without earnest intensity, although that doesn't prevent it from being a sincere and serious story about these people. From the perspective of Silver Linings Playbook, social disabilities are just one of many problems a person can go through in life, and it approaches the story with a fairly casual approach that's sophisticated enough for its subject matter, in which psychological disorders are depicted without stereotypes, but that sophistication also happens to include some good naturalistic comedy and heart.
Starting off in a psychiatric hospital, Patrick "Pat" Solitano attends group therapy sessions and pretends to take medication. This is a familiar scene, although it doesn't last too terribly long. The pacing is more indie, especially when the establishment shots capture Pat's quirks through his possessions instead of focusing on anything particularly dramatic. Pat's talking, perhaps into a recorder or to his journal (I can't remember), but during his voice-over he speaks of his father. So a lot is learned right off the bat.
Pat gets out of the hospital because of his very generous mother. Something weird but minor happens on the way out, because the director's playing with the characters. Pat's had a friend, Danny McDaniels, played by Christ Tucker. Both of these characters are a bit off the wall. McDaniels has to go back to the hospital, but he shows up later.
Meanwhile, it's an interesting scene to see an adult man accepting a ride from his mother. It's a scene I relate with, because I'm nineteen and I still don't have a driver's license, and I probably won't for a few more years yet. Dolores Solitano seems to be a nice lady, and often gets overwhelmed by her son. Here's where I do want to make a comment about the acting, though. She was played by Jackie Weaver, but I don't really see how Jackie Weaver got a nomination for Best Supporting Actress with this role, since the mother didn't play much a part in the movie, and in a year like 2012, there were some powerful alternative candidates that could have taken her place. Still, I'm not saying that she's a bad actress, because she was good. Yet, this film got nominated for all of the acting categories, which set up some big expectations that are better left at the doorstep.
That said, Pat and his mother reach home, and it turns out that the family is having problems. Pat, Sr. (although his name is short for Patrizio, not Patrick), lost his job and gets by on football bets. Apparently he had an anger problem. For the first bit of the movie, I'll admit that I wasn't incredibly impressed with Robert De Niro in this role as well. He acted it well, but for the most part he was a large ham actor who brings gravitas to his roles. I never quite forgot that it was him playing that role, even though he was pretty good casting. I could have also seen Jack Nicholson in this role, and really, both actors have played characters with mental illness before. We all know Nicholson's legendary performance as McMurphy, and De Niro played a man with a split personality once. In any case, this feels very much like his typical acting style, which I will admit is very diverse and applies to a lot of things, but he certainly had that "De Niro feel", as I would call it.
However, it is interesting to note that both De Niro and Bradley Cooper are of Italian descent, like their characters. I know. Bradley Cooper's Italian. Go figure.
This would be where the film gets fun and interesting, except it's that way throughout the entire ride, but what I consider the first truly memorable moment was Pat's first night in his parent's house, when he was catching up on all of the reading material from his former job as a teacher. He reads Ernest Hemingway gets to the end, and then swears. It wasn't a subtle bit of cussing. He shouted it. He threw the book out the window. Then he goes downstairs to his parents, wakes them up at three in the morning, and rants about why he hated the ending to the book, because it had a sad ending instead of a sad ending, and he really wasn't in the mood for sad endings, given the current state of his life.
He also has some back story about his wife. The reason why he spent time in a psychiatric hospital in the first place was because he blew up on another teacher when he found him in his own house, cheating with Pat's wife, Nikki. He wasn't angry with his wife, just that guy. In spite of what happened, Pat is adamant that the affair was not Nikki's fault. He believes that they're still happily married, that he was only scary in that one moment, and that the restraining order between him and her wasn't her choosing. He's still deeply in love with her and thinks that he needs to find a way to get back to his wife again. I admire his faith, and it's weird seeing his quest to get in contact with his wife, because the structure is a lot like a love story where two people haven't fallen in love already, but this is a story of people who are still technically together and married.
Everyone else knows that their marriage is over. Pat is optimistic, though. In his words, "This is what I believe to be true. You have to do everything you can, and if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining." Reconciling with his wife is his number one motivation behind everything he does. He tolerates the therapy because it might bring him down to a place where he can be right for Nikki again. He works hard on several other things. He's a pretty determined guy, and I can relate. It's just that it's obvious from the onset that this is never going to happen to everyone else but him, because he's convinced himself that something will work out because he thinks that it should work out.
It's clear that he's a bit obsessive. He had an outburst at his first therapy session when his wedding songs played. He also had a meltdown that woke up the whole neighborhood when he couldn't find his wedding video, which resulted in his poor mother getting physically overwhelmed by him wen he began thrashing out and his father punching him in the face, at which point he cooled down some because he knew he didn't want to punch a gray-haired old man.
He insisted that these were independent incidents and that he really was better, that he was feeling great. I know what that's like. However, after he hurt his mother, he realized that he had to take medication in order to better control himself, because otherwise he was on a tightrope.
Before, he talked about medication when he first met Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence. They were both familiar with medication, and they both disliked it because it made them feel different, not quite as clear. They way they spoke, I figured that he would never go on it. In fact, I never thought he did, because he spit out medication in the beginning of the movie, and throughout the movie he still seemed like the same guy and I didn't notice any personality changes save that there was less shouting.
Tiffany is an interesting person because, like Pat, she had no filter. One of the first things he said to her was "You have poor social skills. You have a problem." This, after he said "You look nice. How'd Tommy die?" moments after his friend told him he shouldn't bring up the death of Tiffany's husband. They're very direct, frank, forthright, and it creates an interesting form of dialogue. It creates problems, but it perhaps gets more done than regular conversation.
In fact, one of the main things that I have to say is that this film has great dialogue from a naturalistic standpoint. It feels like I am in the room with these people. They're slightly more extreme than I am, but as a person with a social disorder, I speak their language, with all the pitfalls of saying things that are insensitive and socially askew. Although the two lead characters provide the most colorful lines, I have to comment the writing for all the other characters. It's one of those pleasures as an audience member, the type that comes from eavesdropping on a conversation, because it's just a lot of snippets from real life. To keep that tone throughout the entire movie, while also having the dialogue be entertaining, is a pretty cool achievement. Either the writer was that good, or all of the actors are that good, because I honestly can't tell where the line is drawn, and there's always the possibility that there was a lot of add-libbing. It's not as quotable as some other famous movies, but that's because it doesn't bother to be particularly eloquent. After all, there's a lot of swearing that drags this movie up to an R rating, but it actually doesn't register much because it all feels reasonably like a real snapshot of life, like the swearing didn't feel like it was written in for effect. There's little music in this movie that stands out, and it's mostly various songs that get played, but the real rhythm that keeps this movie is its dialogue.
It also makes a difference that I relate to the protagonist and his particular kind of problem, which is overcoming his disability. That's a pretty consuming task, and the type where it's hard to imagine a way out. I was personally very curious to see how it turned out, because I felt that part of myself is invested in that solution.
Meanwhile, this isn't just about people with disorders. The father is obsessed with football. He made his son his personal good luck charm for Eagles games to make him feel more special, which is a pretty bad idea considering Pat's bipolar disorder. It wouldn't have been good for his mental health. And his father was practically OCD, as his son observed. Pat's friend had a lot of rants about his wife, and his therapists...Well, I won't spoil the bit about his therapist. It's more like the entire world is an insane place, if only it was just a bit more honest in examining itself.
Yet, the rest of the world is supposedly normal. Okay. I don't think so, because I don't speak its language. Neither does Pat, so we both agree that we often feel along and that we have to struggle against literally everything.
So Tiffany and Pat interacting with each other was a pleasure, even if it was chaotic. They way they talked made more sense. It didn't follow the rules that everyone else sets up.
There was also something about Tiffany in particular. I had a déjà vu moment, like I had seen her face somewhere before, and not just from The Hunger Games. She was like an amalgamation of various people I know. There are a few people I know who dress like her, some others who have her hair, and others who have her face. The effect is that she looked pretty normal. Pretty, but actually pretty normal and not like the typical actress that would have been called for this role.
Actually, the first person considered for the job was Zooey Deschanel, an obvious typecast that would have made the acting merits of this movie less significant. The director cast Anne Hathaway, but she dropped out because of scheduling conflicts with The Dark Knight Rises, which consisted of far more dramatic but less realistic dialogue. Jennifer Lawrence was not considered for the role and convinced the director with a good audition. Considering that this role gave her an Oscar for Best Actress, she must be happy that it came to be. I'm wondering what the role would have been like if played by prominent, older and better established actresses, though.
She wasn't over the top, though. Still a bit extreme, but consider how much more extreme the role would have been if an actress like Zooey added her typecast charm to the role or if someone like Anne Hathaway made the director figure he could go for a little more gravitas. Since Jennifer Lawrence is still new, but also very talented while also having a very plain appearance, I think it works and helps ground the character.
It's still striking to see a female character who's so neurotic and to think of her as realistic, or at least when I'm looking at this from the perspective that she might have a form of autism. I've met many people with autistic disorders, as well as people with ADHD, and in my experience there are not only fewer females, but the symptoms tend to show up less. I've read up a lot about my own diagnosis, Asperger's Syndrome, since it interests me, and according to textbooks women tend to hide the symptoms very well. I'm not saying that women don't suffer from psychological and neurological disorders, especially since that's far from the truth, but given my experience I was inclined to interpret her character as someone who shares some of the traits of a disorder similar to mine. The only other time I really saw a character like this was (sort of) in a television movie about Temple Grandin, but I can honestly say I never met someone like this in real life. Maybe she isn't a neurological oddball, though. Maybe it was nurture instead of nature. In any case, they never mentioned what exactly was up with her, besides a certain addiction of hers. I might watch this film repeatedly just to psychoanalyze the character and figure that part out.
If she had been any other way, there would have been no chemistry between her and Pat, after all. They're both very different from everyone else. It's not insanity, and it's not something that makes them incapable of functioning. It's the type of disability that, even though I feel that this is somewhat dramatized, pertains more to a person like me. They're both rather determined to carry out on their objectives, both have missing spouses, and both need acceptance. That's really great.
So great is their chemistry that she proposes to Pat, Sr. that her time together with Pat, Jr. is what gives good luck to the Eagles.
I love this. Starting with the father's first big bet on the Eagles is when the character really begins to mature into his role in the story, but the moment when she tells him about her theory of where the positive vibes really came from, the way in which he gets convinced and gets everyone else in the room (both friends and family) to believe in the vibes simply sells the character, and I love him. He may be recognizable and lack anonymity as an actor, but Robert De Niro is a genius. It was at this point where I see why he was nominated as well.
The loser in this situation is Pat, because of the ridiculous pressure. He's still responsible for bringing good luck to the Eagles, and he hates the new parley made over the duel success of the Eagles and his dancing routine with Tiffany. Oh, and he figures out that Tiffany lied to him about something kind of major to the plot, though he reacted remarkably well.
In spite of how crazy everything was, with all the pressure and all the uncertainty and all the internal conflicts that he could have, things came out fine, just as everyone knew they would. With such a wonderful rant about Ernest Hemingway at the beginning, how could the movie not have turned out with a happy ending? Pat got a grip on reality and realized that he would not earn his wife back, but it didn't happen suddenly at the end of the film at the climax. That came earlier, though it was really subtle. It was a good ending, and I feel happy for the characters.
Confession time: I actually watched this movie because a few days before I was at my lowest point in a period of depression, and I wanted to watch this with my mother. A lot of things went wrong with my life, and I felt crushed. I couldn't focus, could't feel happy, couldn't help my low self-esteem, couldn't stop thinking about better times in my life, and couldn't shake off a feeling of despair for where my life is going. A week ago, as of writing this, I even had a full day of crying. Therapy sessions didn't seem to help. As a means of escape and comfort, this movie seemed rather relevant to me and who I was.
I am glad that it was a happy movie, and that it was funny, because they made me feel better. Even though I was feeling better that day, I still appreciated it, because it gives a person like me hope.
My depression started with a violent outburst a few months ago, and I feel that I have not caught up on homework or other daily aspects of my life since. It has been difficult to function. I even resorted to an all-time low for me, and throughout this time of depression I also stole about $100. And it was in cookies. It was like a drug addiction to chocolate, like "So long as I am not paying for it, I'm not actually addicted to it." When I was caught, my self-esteem plummeted because then I not only saw myself as incompetent, but a bad person, so I confessed to how much I thought I stole and decided to pay it off through community service instead of a direct payment just to help me work on my character and give me time every day to focus.
Seeing this film, however, changed some perceptions I had. Remember how I mentioned how I didn't notice when Pat went on his medication? His personality didn't change, although he found it was easier to have control in moments where he was so much more prone to simply react. The day after I watched this movie, I had a doctor's appointment scheduled. I just started medication today, and I hope to get better in a couple of weeks.
This is something I always resisted. If the warning labels weren't scary enough, I was always afraid that medication would do things for me so that my free will wouldn't have to do anything. I also wanted to solve a lot of problems all by myself, and I found it demeaning that feeling regular nostalgia was a condition, since I choose to think about home and my old friends and family.
Some of those feelings, though, are literal, physical feelings. For example, my depression makes my body feel terrible, week, cold, and frail. I would sleep for twelve hours per day. Maybe determination could have got me out of it, but I felt incapable of being determined. Perhaps medication would help me get out of an impossible situation, and maybe I could think sad thoughts without getting sick or loosing all my energy.
Because Pat's fundamental way of thinking didn't change. He was still far different from normal people. His attitudes and behaviors didn't change at all, except he found he could prevent those destructive moments that he claimed were isolated incidents that represent him.
Props to him.
Hang in there.