I promised to never talk again about Silver Linings Playbook on F This Movie!. Guess this makes me a liar, don’t it?
I’ve mentioned the movie in three Riske Business columns, one column on Our Favorite Movie Couples and in the comments for my colleagues’ columns and podcasts on a few occasions. Then John Murphy wished me a happy Silver Linings Day and Heath coined it "Adam’s beloved Silver Linings Playbook" (I love that alternate title, btw – thanks Heath!) and I got the urge to write an all-out, definitive piece on my exploding heart movie. After nearly six months and six viewings, I’m going out on a limb: it’s my new favorite movie.
I’m comfortable in the fact that no one likes this movie as much as I do. It’s a movie that I feel like was made for me. The number of elements that I recognize or find familiar is freaky. But before I dive into why SLP is my jam, I want to pull back and tell you why objectively I think it’s a very good -- not great -- movie.
I’ll start with the positives. Movie chemistry is tough to define – you either see it or you don’t (maybe it’s just they’re a couple you really want to see get together). Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are a fantastic screen couple. I think they have the best on-screen chemistry of any romantic pairing since Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I want to see a new Cooper/Lawrence romantic comedy every few years. They are in two movies together coming up in 2013, including David O. Russell’s follow-up to SLP, called American Hustle. I’m down for both; I don’t think either is supposed to be a comedy, though. At minimum, SLP is one of the best romantic comedies of the 2000s. It’s very romantic and very funny, too.
The supporting performances are all strong, too. The cast of this movie is like a basketball team with a deep bench. Robert De Niro seems invigorated by having another flawed character to play. I love how he plays Pat Sr. in this movie. He’s overall a good guy, but there’s a lot of ugliness and manipulation just beneath the surface and De Niro is an actor that doesn’t shy away from ugly character traits. I don’t know if Jackie Weaver’s part warranted an Oscar nomination, but I think she’s a major reason De Niro’s character doesn’t seem as much like a creep in the movie. Her back and forth with De Niro is always jokey and sweet, which tells you a lot about the overall nature of both characters. It feels lived in. There’s also good Beaumont-pitched performance by Chris Tucker (of whom I am a fan) and a very funny part for John Ortiz, someone shooting up my list of favorite character actors. He’s great in SLP as a guy who is an emotional dam ready to burst.
On the downside, the movie takes some shortcuts and has a few contrivances. The two biggest shortcuts are how the police officer (played by Dash Mihok – whose Man or Muppet is Fozzi Bear) is ALWAYS there whenever something mildly goes sour for Bradley Cooper and that Jackie Weaver’s character (as Cooper’s mom) tells Jennifer Lawrence where he’ll be running even though we have no reason to believe that the two know each other before the third act of the movie. For contrivances, there’s the parlay bet and the "nailing the big move" scenario. The Jennifer Lawrence character is also a little poorly developed, but her performance covers up those written failings. She’s basically a manic pixie dream girl (not coined by me) in the sense that she mostly exists for Bradley Cooper’s character (which is sort of explained away in that her personality is to give everything to other people and not get anything out of it herself). What else we learn about her is pretty Hollywood – e.g. she had sex with everyone at her office, she's a young widow, she's participating in a dance competition, etc.
The whole parlay bet is silly and would only happen in a movie, but I’m fine with it because it sets up a very entertaining finale and the big move sets up a laugh in the dance competition scene. The scene where Cooper and Lawrence dance together at the competition is a GREAT movie moment. SLP can correctly be considered formula and a bit twee, but it’s made so well that it supersedes its failings.
It also ends about two minutes too late. If only they went to credits right after Cooper and Lawrence kissed the first time! The short scene back at the house doesn’t do anything except close the narration loop from the first minute of the movie.
So if it’s not a great movie, why is it my favorite movie? Here’s the autobiographical pit stop. I never had it as bad as the Bradley Cooper character, but I have had lapses with depression and anxiety attacks in the past. This time of my life was scary. I often would have weird thoughts and malaise and not have any idea why it was happening. A lot of things got me through this dark period, and most of them parallel things from Silver Linings Playbook: my family and friends rallied behind me and were patient and loving, I began to exercise a lot in order to release endorphins, I took antidepressant medicine, started to go to therapy and began ballroom dancing with my then girlfriend who was into that stuff. Freaky, right? If that wasn’t enough, there were even more elements in the movie that correspond to things in my life: my shared love of watching the White Sox with my Dad and how we use sports sometimes as a way to spend time together, the fact that "My Cherie Amour" by Stevie Wonder was a song that my college girlfriend and I held near and dear and my obliviousness on how bad my relationship was with this woman, my overall impatience with negativity and my sometimes defiance of taking my medicine because it makes me feel numb.
1) Cooper’s breakdown in front of the movie theater and then Lawrence trying to calm him down.
2) When Cooper and his brother reconcile.
3) When De Niro wakes Cooper up and talks about how he wants to help him get back on his feet.
4) When Jackie Weaver finds out that what Cooper has been up to is practicing for a dance competition and all she does is give him a kiss on the head.
5) The dance competition.
6) De Niro telling Cooper not to fuck up his chance with Jennifer Lawrence after they danced.
7) When Cooper chases Lawrence down the street and they get together.
I also love the reason why SLP was made. O. Russell has said that he made the movie for his son (who’s in the movie as the nosy teenager) who is bipolar and has OCD. So does the movie start dark and end light? Of course. The movie is wish fulfillment and is supposed to end happily ever after. It doesn’t cheat, I think, because it gets to that point in a reasonable way. As Cooper’s character says early in SLP, the world is hard enough as it is. Can’t we just be positive and have a good ending to the story?
Silver Linings Playbook is a movie all about what it takes to be happy. Everyone in the movie is trying to figure that out. How many movies do that? Not enough. So many mean nothing and this one means something.
Thank you to everyone involved in making this movie. It’s awesome!
As a fellow movie fan, I hope everyone at some point loves a movie as much as I love Silver Linings Playbook.
Fun fact: David O. Russell wrote the script with Vince Vaughn and Zooey Deschanel in mind. This column would not have been written if that happened. I would have probably run through a newly-installed plate of glass.