Monday, March 25, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

In all honesty, I'm kind of an "every silver lining has its cloud" kind of guy. At the same time, I'm not an egregiously gloomy Gus. I don't have expectations that things will come out shiny and jake in the end, and so can be pleased when they happen to turn out that way and am unsurprised when they don't. I have tried and am trying still to leaven my outlook. A major hindrance is that I just can't stomach the--what are to me--platitudes and homilies that ride sidecar on the way to a friendlier relationship with life's hardships.

Silver Linings Playbook is about coping, and how coping can be either a positive process or a negative destination. Pat (Bradley Cooper) is the one character who has the "insane stamp" on his hand (undiagnosed bipolar with mood swings). Without his father's knowledge, Pat's mother checks him out of the hospital he'd been sent to after finding his wife in the shower with the high school geography teacher and trashing him. Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) has lost his job and now bets on the Philadelphia Eagles for a living. A superstitious gambler, he interprets Pat's return as good "juju" for the Eagles.

Out of the bin, Pat is driven to get well--jogging, reading all the books on his wife's high school English curriculum, generally trying to adopt a silver linings-riddled outlook--with the endgame of winning his wife back. Invited to a dinner party by his friend Ronnie, himself cracking under the pressures of work, marriage, and a new baby, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow out to out-crazy Pat. From here we set out on an examination of who's got problems, who knows it, who doesn't, who's willing to work on it, and who refuses still to admit that they've got problems in the first place. On the surface a romantic comedy, Silver Linings Playbook is one of the most articulate, entertaining examples of the "well" using the "unwell" as proof of their own wellness. It's a troubling way to look at your life: concern for the well-being of others becomes proof of your own well-being. What this movie does best is turn that wrongheaded logic on its head. 

There's also some romance in there. I promise.

Most everyone swaddles themselves in their own melange of self-help sayings. We tend to hiccup them up like tics, I'm sure most of us not even noticing we're doing it, and we do so so readily that any colour of support gets blanched out. What's charming about Silver Linings Playbook, and about Pat as a character, is his insistence to enliven these tossed-off comforts, to actually live by and draw strength from them. He brings to mind Say Anything...'s Lloyd Dobler and his "dare to be great" drive. It's an energy we don't see much of, in our media or in our lives, all so sodden and droopy with irony. Between Pat and Tiffany there's an astounding amount of gumption and positivity that, thanks to Cooper and Lawrence, never feels like tin. These kids breathe a real interesting life into those limp platitudes, so much so that--I'm serious--I caught a few legitimate winks of silver in there somewhere.

P.S. As long as we're talking about coping mechanisms, I also couldn't stop thinking about Serenity Now through Playbook. Any Seinfeld fans out there? 

- Andrew

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