“Silver Linings Playbook” Doesn’t Play

***This review contains spoilers!***

This little film by David O. Russell has been wildly over-praised. I saw it tonight and was incredibly disappointed. The first half of the film had great promise as a beautifully rendered drama about mental illness and family life. But it veers off course by the second hour and drive right off the road. Let me break it down fast, because the Academy Awards are in 48 hours and this movie is up for a slew of awards including (incredibly), Best Picture.

Pat, beautifully played by the super hot Bradley Cooper, is bi-polar. The movie begins with his release from a mental institution after an 8-month stint for beating his wife’s lover to a bloody pulp after finding the man in the shower with Nikki (his wife). Pat is released into the custody of his nervous, loving parents, the wonderful Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver.

Pat wants to get back together with his wife. There is a restraining order against him, so that’s not likely — or at least not immediately.  In the meantime, he has to be saved by the love of a good woman, played by Jennifer Lawrence.

(We do meet the wife at the end of the film. She never speaks a word: the entire point of her character is to be an object of Pat’s obsessive affections and violent possessiveness, and then to be an object of his rejection. And that’s my major complaint: No female character in this movie has any reason to exist beyond reacting to what the male characters do.)

The plot of the movie’s second half is patently ridiculous and revolves around a bet on the outcome of a football game and a dance competition. You can predict the ending with your eyes closed and your popcorn bag over your head. It is as clichéd as “Rocky.” In fact, it takes place in Philadelphia so it shares a locale with “Rocky.”

The film is billed as a romantic comedy but it is neither romantic nor a comedy. That doesn’t bother me so much — I like films that transcend genre — but what does disturb me is the way the screenplay sets up Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, as a kindred spirit to Tiffany, who is played by the very talented and appealing Jennifer Lawrence. What exactly makes them kindred spirits? The suggestion is that mental illness does. They are equally unbalanced and damaged and will be redeemed by mutual understanding and support and sexy quirkiness (and they’re both very sexy, no doubt about that). Also, dancing. Now there’s an original plot line: having the two leads fall in love through dancing together. That’s never been done before.

However, while Pat has a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder that has plagued him for years, Tiffany has a case of… female sexuality and outspokenness.  The “disordered behavior” that supposedly makes her the perfect girl for Pat is that after the tragic death of her husband, she acted out by having sex with eleven co-workers. Since there is no other explanation given for a more chronic struggle with mental illness, I was left with the justifiable impression that Tiffany just made a bunch of bad choices out of grief.

Do the screenwriters know that there is a very real history of women being demonized and labeled as “mad” for hypersexuality? They should research the medical history of “treatment” for hysteria (originally thought by male doctors to be the result of the womb wandering around the body)– including lobotomy, clitorectomy, hysterectomy and burning at the stake.

The film plays this revelation of manic sexual behavior (apparently entirely consensual) for laughs, taking Pat’s POV as he salivates over the information and begs Tiffany to reveal whether some of those co-workers were women.  Hot girl-on-girl action, right Pat? Even though Tiffany was obviously suffering, get your fap material! The subsequent dialogue is a parody of male pornographic imagination, and Tiffany later busts Pat on taking lascivious pleasure in her tale of sadness and degradation. It’s a good moment, and a self-aware one. But that’s all the deep back story we get from Tiffany, who never hesitates in her full-throttle seduction of a man who is demonstrably unstable. Her entire existence as a character is defined by the death of her husband, her promiscuity following his death, and her desire to have Pat as a boyfriend. I know the guy’s hot, but he’s also unemployed, mentally ill, and lives with his parents. I have the feeling Tiffany could probably do better but after all, this is Hollywood. And Hollywood scripts are written by men, for men.

Maybe I’m just a little touchy because of all the stories in the news right now about women being killed by their boyfriends and husbands. Pardon me for finding this movie’s premise more than a little disturbing. This guy’s a violent manic depressive just out of an institution with a restraining order against him. LOVE WILL MAKE IT ALL OKAY.

Julia Stiles plays the obligatory Emasculating Wife Character, Brea Ree the Icy Bitch Wife Character, Chris Tucker and John Ortiz play the Wacky Colored People Pals, and Anupan Kher plays the Clichéd Indian Character Who Gets To Shout An Obscenity And Make Everyone Laugh. All of the POC in the film exist to reflect the reality of the attractive white people at the center of the story. Yay, Hollywood!



4 Replies to ““Silver Linings Playbook” Doesn’t Play”

  1. PB, your review is right on. Just saw SLP as part of a Best Picture marathon, and for me it wins “most disappointing.”

  2. I don’t disagree with your criticisms, but I really appreciated this film’s realistic portrayal of mental illness. Pat is ill. He isn’t “creative” or “zany” or “romantic,” nor is he evil.

    He has to fully participate in his own treatment, not only by taking medication and showing up for appointments, but by taking responsibility for how he behaves to his parents, his ex-wife, and his new love interest.

    It’s so seldom that Hollywood gets mental illness right. I thought Silver Linings Playbook deserved some credit for that, despite its other flaws.

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