You Have Poor Social Skills. You Have A Problem: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Silver Linings Playbook may prove to be the biggest surprise for me from 2012, not because it is a particularly revolutionary film, or because it came out of nowhere as a huge surprise in filmmaking.  I enjoy David O. Russell, however, the seemingly onslaught of praise directed at this film, not to mention  the claims that it was deserved of every Oscar possible had me a little uncertain, particularly considering that it is essentially a dark romantic comedy.  Why then is it my biggest surprise of last year, well...I would have to say it has everything to do with it proving to be a really great film, regardless of me rooting heavily against it before ever watching even the trailer.  I am honestly trying to be better about actually viewing and considering a work before dismissing it completely, and has proven to benefit my opinion of a work like Silver Linings Playbook, as well as something like American Pie awhile back, although it does prove at many times to confirm my preconceived notions about the film, which is certainly the case with Gone With The Wind.  Hell, who knows, maybe this dedication to seeing before judging will eventually get me around to actually watching a Tyler Perry movie, but I know the likelihood of that is quite minimal.  I say all this digressing from the actual film at hand, which is a rather raw and subtly experimental film by the now well-established David O. Russell who proves to be  impossible to categorize as far as genre is concerned, making everything from his most recent film to the excellent The Fighter, as well as Three Kings, a war movie that I have heard only praise towards.  In a year that saw a lot of directors playing within their comfort zones what Russell offers in Silver Linings Playbook is not only out of the norm for himself, but for many of the performers as well, and while it is certainly not the flawless film people seem so sure it is, I will say that it is certainly worth viewing and evident of what is possible within in the comedic genre, both as a means to make audiences laugh, as well as a way to consider some of the more troubled aspects of a decaying traditionalist society.

Silver Linings Playbook focuses primarily on Pat (Bradley Cooper) an ex-substitute teacher who is being released from a psychiatric ward after being placed their for nearly beating a man to death after discovering him having sex with his wife in the shower.  Pat struggles to maintain any degree of normalcy after this event, especially considering that any sensory experience from the trauma triggers rage within him associated with that event, a particular Stevie Wonder song serving as a perfect example.  Knowing his serious condition, Pat's parents Dolores (Jackie Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) walk on eggshells around him, although Pat Sr.'s involvement with bookie work after the loss of his pension leads to some very heavy stress within the household.  Regardless of this, Pat seeks safety running in the streets and attempting to get in mental and physical shape in order to win back his wife.  Of course, this task is not easy considering that Pat attempts to avoid taking medication and is so mentally distressed that he has convinced himself of his wife's certain forgiveness.  At a party for Pat's recovery Pat meets a sister of a friends wife named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who is facing her own psychological troubles after the loss of her husband.  The two instantly create a derisive chemistry mocking one another in their mental duress, yet clearly drawn to each other in a more than platonic way.  Tiffany convinces Pat that she is capable of assuring communication with his wife, despite a restraining order if he is willing to, in turn, serve as a partner for her in a dance competition.  Needless to say this task proves challenging, both in regards to their respective mental issues, as well as a slew of outside forces attempting to interfere, all culminating into their performance that, at this point in the narrative, has taken on a more than recreational element and indeed possesses very high stakes.  All the while Pat's wife has decided to make an appearance and see how he is doing, much the the dismay of Tiffany, although as the closing moments of the film suggest Pat may have grown to understand his own relationship to his troublesome past, as well as his own necessary detachment from it as well.

This movie takes the possibility of mental breakdown very seriously, positing that it only takes the right troublesome event to lead a person into a depressed self-destructive existence and is something that I think often fails to be appropriately considered within cinema, as was certainly the case with the terribly uninsipring Young Adult.  Sure the whiteness of Silver Linings Playbook, as well as the economic safety of the characters involved should not be ignored, yet it has no qualms showing the very destructive actions a person suffering from complete mental decay goes through, whether it be dangerous sexual engagements, or working out to the point of counter productivity, Russell makes it quite clear that people can snap and when they do it is necessary for those around them to become exceptionally unified.  Much of Silver Linings Playbook then becomes not about Pat and Tiffany's own struggle with their psyches, but instead; a film about those close to them learning to help their psyches evolve back to something remotely normal, at least this is certainly the case between Pat and his brother who seems to think that he can cheer his troubled brother up by boasting on his own successes.  Although the true narrative evolution comes via Pat Sr. whose own failures as a paternal figure have led to him being overly aggressive in stress, yet his has not resulted in the injury of another individual, therefore, he has not been othered by society like his son, although there are moments in the narrative where one considers whether or not he is more insane.  Eventually, however, it is Pat Sr. coming to his own senses about his failures and missteps that drives a major portion of the narrative along and makes viewers consider mental breakdowns and equally problematic mental barriers as they relate to interpersonal communication in the familial sense, one of the main underlying elements in this exceptional dark comedy.

Key Scene:  I am, and always will be, a sucker for Bob Dylan and the use of "Girl from North Country" in this film was beyond stellar.

Movie theater, go now. It helps one to appreciate this film if they see it with others around.

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