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Silver Linings Playbook – phoney, patronising but with great Lawrentian moments


Jennifer Lawrence



Silver Linings Playbook – David O Russell

The mesmeric Jennifer Lawrence almost makes this phoney movie work – but not quite. For me at least. Claudia Winkleman on BBC’s now equally unwatchable Twittery Film 2012 loved it; while her mate on the show, Danny ‘Boy’ Leigh hated it. Reluctantly, I’m with Danny Boy; but my wife lines up in the Claudia (grimace, grimace) corner. ‘Winkie’ as I like to call her, is the only person on the planet who can shrug her eyebrows. Mixed responses from critics too: from 2* rubbish to 5* Oscar bait.

It’s odd: in Extremely Loud and Terribly Close, Stephen Daldry used an absorbing dramatic context within which superbly and sensitively to show, not tell us, about the perplexing and deeply affecting difficulties of suffering from living one’s inner life somewhere on the spectrum of Aspergers and/or Autism. Most critics fell into two camps: those who got it and hated it; and those who, oblivious to his isolation and pain; disliked the character of Thomas for precisely the mannerisms and behaviour characteristic of his affliction.

In contrast critical acclaim, especially in the US has been heaped on this patronisingly shallow movie which trivialises and exploits rather than illuminates the self-subversive and destructive problem of bipolar disorder. You have to have more insight and imaginative sensibility than Mr Russell demonstrates here to make the clinical root of manic depression remotely romantic, let alone funny – except in a cruel or crass way.

Bradley Cooper’s Pat Solatano is a parody of a manic depressive; given to violent mood swings, obsessive intensity often towards the most trivial of things or events. After a violent confrontation with the lover of his wife Nikki, Pat has spent 8 months in a psychiatric hospital. Deluded that he is now better and need not take his meds he persuades his mother Dolores to reject the advice of the doctors and court-order him free. He then single-mindedly pursues the equally deluded objective of returning to marital bliss with Nikki who has in the meantime, wisely, buggered off.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure you can find examples of Pat’s behaviour in any text book on Bipolar disorder. But symptoms are supposed to be something experienced by a person whereas Cooper’s Pat is just a bundle of symptoms in search of a recognisable character to have them. Pat’s faintly ludicrous behaviour as Russell has written and then filmed it, is simply annoying and exasperating until a hint of sympathy is sparked when we meet his father Pat Senior (Robert de Niro). Pat is the kind of Obsessive who gets OCD sufferers a bad name. Messianically devoted to his local American Football team the Philadelphia Eagles, Pat makes de Niro’s other paranoid alter ego, Jack Byrnes (Meet The Fockers) seem like a laid-back pussycat.

Using Nikki’s sister Veronica to try to find out where his scarpered wife is now living, Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence) whose grief at the death of her cop husband has found expression, among other things, in sleeping with all 11 of her work-colleagues plus a few odd strays who keep turning up at her parents’ door hoping for second-helpings. Seemingly bipolar-light, Tiffany tries to deflect Pat from his doomed efforts to resurrect his marriage. One form this takes is to challenge him into partnering her in a local ballroom dance competition. There is some profoundly unconvincing father/son stuff which leads Pat Senior to risk all his savings on a ‘Parlay’ bet which links an Eagles match to Pat and Tiffany’s score in the dance competition. Although Tiffany is a sexy mover and Pat a likeable ‘hunky’ sorta guy: both are crap dancers. So the bet, the family finances and Daddy’s belated ‘trust’ in his ‘nut-job’ son all seem to be heading down the tubes. Tiffany can only get Pat to dance by lying to him that Nikki will be there to watch.

If one gave a rat’s fundament for any of these contrived characters the predictable outcome could have been as touching as Russell obviously intends. I don’t think it’s fair to blame Cooper for the failure here – he tries hard with a part so superficially written that he begins as a set of OTT symptoms only to transmute into Bradley Cooper at the end.

In the execrable The Fighter, Russell managed to write real people as cardboard characters. He is at least consistent in the narrative of Silver Linings: characters now fictional are equally foldable. Except – almost – for Tiffany.

There are very real Lawrentian pleasures here. Jennifer, magnificent in her Oscar-nominated debut role in Winter’s Bone; and entertainingly charismatic in Hunger Games, invests Tiffany with a degree of real emotional strength and passion not in the writing. Sheer power of performance turns the feisty Tiffany into a character we can begin to recognise and thus care about. Unfortunately she has no one to play off – so it all comes to naught. However she has a 2 minute-ish monologue when she takes on the half-witted macho bullshit of Pat Senior which is worth the price of admission alone. Her delicious demolition of De Niro on Pat Senior’s own masculine NFL football territory recalls one of the great moments in movies when Marisa Tomei did the same about cars in My Cousin Vinny.

Like The Fighter, this is a film consciously and manipulatively pitched at awards. They couldn’t possibly do that could they? Jennifer Lawrence is too good to get an Oscar for a second-rate role in a third-rate movie.









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