This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Silver Linings Playbook
Year of Release: 2012
Rating: R for occasional sex and violence, but mostly lottttts of profanity.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No.
Spoiler Alert: Mild, moderate by at the very end.
Silver Linings Playbook is one of those rare movies, alongside Dazed and Confused and Clerks, that isn’t necessarily one of my all-time favorites but one that I never get sick of watching. One of my top five desert island picks, for sure, but not just because it’s a fun romp – it’s a romp with substance.
In media res takes on a whole new meaning during the first few minutes, which catapult us into Pat (Bradley Cooper)’s release from a Baltimore mental hospital. He’s up up up, as his father (Robert DeNiro) will chastise him for later, because he’s going to win back his wife, Nikki, who has for reasons not yet disclosed severed all contact with him. Armed with Nikki’s high school English syllabus, a positive new motto (excelsior), and his buddy Danny (Chris Tucker) who really isn’t supposed to be released from the hospital yet but tags along for part of the journey to Philadelphia anyway, Pat is bound and determined to save his marriage.
If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming, it is. We learn during one of Pat’s therapy visits that he was sent away for nearly beating Nikki’s co-worker-turned-lover to death after catching the two of them in the shower together, and it comes as no great surprise after his “Ma Cheri Amour”-induced freakout (the song that was playing during the attack) in the waiting room that Pat is “undiagnosed bipolar.” Pat’s bipolar episodes punctuate the early sequences of the movie (it’s hard for me to imagine a better reaction to Hemingway than Pat’s hurling A Farewell to Arms through a closed window) and intensify after he is propositioned by Tiffany, a neighboring young window.
Let’s talk about Tiffany, the role that won Jennifer Lawrence the Oscar. Tiffany is bold and brash and wears steel grey nail polish that I have exhausted myself trying to find in stores. Deep in mourning over her husband, who was hit and killed while helping some motorists on the side of the road, Tiffany dulls the pain by sleeping with a bunch of people – eleven co-workers, to be exact – and is fired for her conduct. She finds an unlikely friend in Pat, and barring a few fights (pay particular attention to the “who’s crazier?” diner scene, and you’ll see why Jennifer Lawrence easily took home the trophy), the two start to spend all sorts of time together. Tiffany tells Pat that she’ll gladly pass on a letter to Nikki via her sister Veronica (Julia Stiles), but in exchange, Pat has to train with her for an amateur dance competition.
I remember talking to a psychology major/occupational therapist friend of mine about Silver Linings right after seeing it in theaters. We had concluded that a cooperative relationship of any kind between Pat and Tiffany would never work, at least not in our universe, because they’re both so explosive and volatile and self-absorbed. Maybe it’s something about Philadelphia, I volunteered, having recently marathoned the first few seasons of It’s Always Sunny. The characters in Silver Linings remind me somewhat of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh cast, all with different psychological disorders. Pat has bipolar disorder, Tiffany, if I were to guess, has borderline personality disorder given her issues with attachment, intimacy, and impulsive behavior, Pat Sr. exhibits OCD symptoms all over the place, and Pat’s mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) is always anxious and on edge, though I’d argue that she’s probably just trying not to lose it most days. This is why David O Russell’s everyone-talks-over-one-another dialogue style, though it irritated me irritated me occasionally in American Hustle, worked well for Silver Linings. Every character is so consumed with internal noise that it eventually spills out in “more inappropriate things than appropriate things”: tune out for even a second and you’ll miss uncensored mumblings like Pat’s “well Tommy’s dead, so he’s not going to fucking do it [referring to the dance competition].”
Silver Linings Playbook epitomizes John Lennon’s idea that “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” as Pat reaches a level of clarity and wellness by the film’s end, though not in the way he expects. (This is also adorably reinforced through the soundtrack when Pat and Tiffany dance to “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” – Stevie Wonder is somehow both damnation and salvation.) Bottom line? Maybe Pat and Tiffany aren’t so wrong for each other after all. We all come with baggage, but with a little help from the right people at the right time, we’ll eventually get where we need to be.