From the first time we saw previews for Silver Linings Playbook, we knew we wanted to go see it. We've come to respect Jennifer Lawrence as an actress, and though we squinted scornfully at Bradley Cooper in The Words, this movie looked like he might have been given a decent script to work with.
Alas, just before its debut, the film's owners/producers (whatever you call them) decided to remove Silver Linings Playbook from general release, allegedly intending to 'generate increased interest,' and only to show it in Los Angeles and New York. What a stupid move. SLP came to our multiplex theater with no further advertising than what was briefly seen in early fall and opened against the horror flick Mama and Schwarzenegger return The Last Stand. The result? The theater in which we saw Silver Linings Playbook had maybe eight people in it.
That's a shame, because it was truly worth of its eight Academy Award Nominations. Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Direction, Best Writing Adaptation, and Best Film Editing .... And I would be thrilled if it won them all.
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has what we used to call a mental breakdown when he comes home to find his wife naked in the shower with a co-worker, and winds up in a mental institution for eight months, during which time he is diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. His mother springs him from the hospital, on the terms that he live with her and his father, so that they can keep tabs on him.
Refusing to take his prescribed medication, Pat forges on, swearing to improve himself, insisting that he and his ex-wife will reconcile, in denial of the mood swings that have come to rule and poison his life.
But wait, there's more! Pat's father is trying to make book -- emphasis on "trying" -- and happens to be subject to obsessive-compulsive disorder, with a side dish of superstition about the Philadephia Eagles football team. Indeed, Pat Sr. has been banned for life from the Eagles' stadium for getting into fights during his rage issues.
Crazy, no? Not crazy enough. Enter an unfortunate dinner invitation, and the lovely but also obviously troubled Tiffany, whose guilt and grief over her husband's death haunt her, making her angrily defensive towards everyone.
Although this cast of characters sounds sad and pathetic, they aren't. Pat keeps trying to find the "silver lining" in his failures, his father is sure he will succeed in making money in his gambling ventures, and Tiffany has a secret passion for a hobby that might channel her sadness and anger into something creative and wonderful. Hope keeps them all going; hope transforms their blighted lives.
Something to ponder about this story: nearly all the characters are crazy, some more than others, but instead of being isolated by their craziness, they all accept each other's failings and mental problems as being within the spectrum of normality. And that acceptance allows the story the room to be uproariously funny at times, and gives the viewer the opportunity to see in flawed lives some real "silver linings."
Loved this film to bits, and hope you will have an opportunity to see it, too.
So, in his book The Republic, Plato tells a story about Socrates telling a story, which is not far fetched, really, since Socrates did a lot of that, in which he, Socrates asks Plato's brother Glaucon to consider a darkened cave in which there were prisoners who all their lives have been chained and immobilized in such a way that they could only see a blank wall in the back of the cave. Somewhere behind the prisoners is a walkway, and behind the walkway, a fire. The whole arrangement is such that as people pass along the walkway, the light from the fire casts a shadow of them and anything they might be carrying onto the wall in front of the prisoners. Owing to the peculiar situation of the prisoners, these shadows would be the only reality they would have ever known.
Socrates goes on to screw with Glaucon's mind by musing about what might happen if one of the prisoners is freed and able to leave the cave into the light of day. There would be a period of disorientation and confusion as the prisoner's sense tried to adjust to the brightness of the sun and startling visions before him. If he did manage to acclimate and absorb what he sees, and then is sent back to his place in the cave, his eyes would no longer be accustomed to the darkness, and he would be at a disadvantage in the "reality" that he once knew. His fellow prisoners would be aghast at his "blindness," but he would have no desire to regain his sight, for, as Socrates says, he would rather be a poor servant of a poor master and endure anything in the light of the world than to take his place in the dark society of the cave.
Most of us, most of the time, spend our lives outside the cave. Then sometimes, a divorce, a disease, or some other disaster takes us to the mouth of the cave, and we look in, maybe even linger there a bit, but we usually back away. Every once in a while some of slip and tumble all the way into the cave. Silver Linings Playbook takes the audience and places them right at the entrance to the cave. All the characters have one foot in and one foot out, and we are able to watch as they struggle to maintain their footing.
This is an extraordinary story. You are drawn so quickly and completely into the convoluted lives the characters that it feels like the downhill drop of a rollercoaster. Pat, the main character, has been institutionalized for eight months by the courts for beating a man he discovers making love to his wife. When he is released from the institution into the custody of his parents, he re-enters a world where he is now stigmatized and is considered a nutcase. Everybody wants to help, but the only person who seems able to understand what he is going through is Tiffany, a young woman for whom the tragic death of her husband tore her world to shreds as completely as Pat's had been shattered.
This story could have been handled melodramatically. It could have been a shallow tale depicting cliché encounters with mental health issues. Instead, this is a breathtaking story of real people dealing with real issues. It is told with humor and compassion, and it is told so well from Pat's and Tiffany's points of view that it would be easy to believe that the author had personal experience with the journey to madness and back again. (I don't know if this is the case.)
Of course the best story in the world can still be mangled by bad acting, but in this case Bradley Cooper as Pat and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany were magical. These were hard roles to do, and they must have been daunting roles to do well, but each actor gave an Oscar-nominated performance, and the nominations were certainly well deserved. I have seen four of the five Best Actor nominees in their roles, missing only Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, and of those four, Bradley Cooper stands head and shoulders above the others. I was not as fortunate in the Best Actress category, managing to catch only Lawrence and Naomi Watts in The Impossible., but once again, the role of Tiffany is one of those roles that actresses must dream about -- a character of depth and complexity in a relevant and poignant story. Jennifer Lawrence did an outstanding job.
If it wasn't enough that both leads turned in great performances, both Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver (Pat's parents) turned in Oscar-nominated performances in the categories of Best Supporting Actor and Actress.
Director David Russell (who also wrote the screenplay and received Oscar nominations for both Directing and Writing) deserves a bunch of credit for channeling all this talent into a final product that is so delightful, and for at least for the moment, allowing us to escape from our cave and see something other than the shadows of sanity we are used to.
Is this a good film? No, it is a great film. Is it worth the trip to the theater? Absolutely. Is it going to win the eight Oscars for which it is nominated? I haven't a clue, but it is my favorite for Best Picture.