My first thought after watching Silver Linings Playbook was, “Well, here’s another example of the annual Weinstein marketing juggernaut.” Another movie that doesn’t seem to warrant all the Oscar buzz it’s generating. It’s entertaining, but it sometimes feels like a made-for-television movie (not to knock a good TV movie) or a multi-episode arc on a sitcom. It introduces too many narrative strands and doesn’t tackle any of them deeply enough. Ashley and I both agreed that we were underwhelmed, and then we proceeded to talk about the movie for a solid thirty minutes. So maybe it has more going on than we initially thought? Or maybe we spent that time talking about how it could have been better.
One strand that the movie introduces but then doesn’t resolve satisfactorily is Pat Sr.’s (a surprisingly low-key Robert De Niro) anxiety and obsessive compulsive behavior. Is the fact that the movie doesn’t substantively address his issues a sign of its weakness or the mark of an unconventional film that isn’t afraid to leave things unresolved and messy, as real life tends to be? At the end of the movie, we get a shot of Pat Sr.’s TV remotes out of his usual obsessive formation; does that indicate that all his problematic behaviors are resolved, or just that he’s okay enough, as okay as any of us ever are? Ditto with Ronnie’s strained marriage and the immense pressure he feels. Pat tells him not to throw his marriage away, and that’s enough for Ronnie to work on his marriage? I can’t decide whether the movie’s glancing looks at each of these serious problems is realistically open-ended or superficial.
Either way, Bradley Cooper gives a live-wire performance as Pat, laying bare the character’s volatility and tenuous sense of control. The role capitalizes on the slightly manic edge the actor always has, even when he’s playing a more conventional romantic lead. Cooper is totally convincing when Pat describes how he’d been “white-knuckling it” his whole life, living tightly-coiled, somehow managing his mood swings and anxiety without realizing what exactly he was dealing with.
I was less impressed with Jennifer Lawrence. I haven’t seen Winter’s Bone, so maybe it’s not fair for me to say that she hasn’t ever impressed me all that much. She was flat in X-Men: First Class; in The Hunger Games, she didn’t fully communicate Katniss’ conflicting impulses of self-preservation, anger, and loyalty. I think she does her best with what she’s given here, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Tiffany is another iteration of the “interesting because she’s screwed up” female character that Hollywood seems to find so fascinating.
I loved seeing veteran Hindi film actor Anupam Kher as Pat’s therapist, Dr. Patel. He’s acted in so many Hindi films, not to mention crossovers like Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, that it’s harder to think of movies that he hasn’t been in rather than ones he has been in. He always brings a certain grounded authenticity to his roles, and in this film he’s matter-of-factly supportive and even bracing when necessary.
I don’t know how well the movie’s football and dance competition strands lined up together at the end. It feels forced, and I didn’t buy that all those people who didn’t visit Pat in the mental institution once in eight months would attend the dance competition. Seriously, even Dash Mihok, apparently the only cop in town, shows up for this thing? It all makes for an enjoyable payoff, but it also seems too sentimental for the other messier, more realistic choices in the film. In keeping with the movie’s rougher edges, Pat and Tiffany remain hilariously amateurish in their dancing, and I appreciated that. They may not be experts like their inspirations, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, but they do capture some of that duo’s joyous spirit.