Silver Linings Playbook

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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.

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Being Julia

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This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Being Julia
Year of Release: 2004
Rating: R for some sexuality.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No.
Spoilers: Mild.

When Being Julia was released in 2004, The New York Times’ A.O. Scott reviewed the film as “a flimsy frame surrounding a brightly colored performance by Annette Bening, whose quick, high-spirited charm is on marvelous display.” Maybe this opinion was shared by the Academy when they nominated powerhouse Million Dollar Baby an impressive seven times next to Being Julia’s singular Best Actress nod, which Hillary Swank took the trophy home for in the end. But I’m not bitter. I digress.

To me, the frame surrounding Annette Bening’s role as temperamental stage actress Julia Lambert is not so much “flimsy” as it is a light, unobtrusive backseat to a character-driven film. Julia and her husband Michael (Jeremy Irons) are the definition of late 1930’s power couple, forming a “modern” partnership that is far less about romance than it is about business. Michael directs, Dolly (Miriam Margolyes) finances, and Julia acts: though she is growing more and more disenchanted with her stagnating career. “I want something to happen,” she insists, and until it does, she is left with regurgitating favorite lines from old performances. Early on, as Julia’s dresser Evie (Juliet Stevenson) is able to mouth Julia’s musings word-for-word, we understand that the line between Julia herself and the roles she plays are frequently blurred, if they even exist at all.

We don’t have to wait long for something to shake things up: enter a promising young American named Tom (Shaun Evans), a businessman and self-professed fan of Julia’s work. Julia is flattered by Tom’s professional – and quickly sexual – attention to her, and the two begin an exhilarating affair that has Julia feeling more alive than she’s felt in years. One of my favorite scenes will always be Julia sitting in front of her bedroom mirror the morning after she and Tom first sleep together, fresh-faced and makeup-free, breaking her low, moody drawl with an uncontrollable fit of giggles. Of course, Tom’s intentions are less than honorable. He is plainly after Julia for the social and monetary benefits, and eventually uses his connections to secure a role for his new and much younger love interest, Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch) in Julia’s upcoming play. Julia does not stay lost in her fantasy world for long as things become clear, and masterfully orchestrates the sweetest revenge on her former lover and one bad actress.

At first, we think we should dislike Julia because of her lack of authenticity – “I don’t think you really exist,” her son Roger (Tom Sturridge) tells her in one heartbreakingly honest quip – but as the film moves toward its vengeful climax, we understand that it is through the stage that Julia can regain control of her real life. Being Julia, though clocking in at a brief 105 minutes, leaves us refreshed, inspired, and contemplating the boundaries (or lack thereof) between life and art. The film is also an exercise in modern relationships – Julia and Michael do care for one another in their own way, and their exchanges (“My husband is a devious little runt,” Julia growls face-down on a massage table) are nothing less than adorable. Bruce Greenwood delights as Julia’s best friend Lord Charles, who gently rejects her romantic advances due to reasons that would be rejected by 1930s English society but are joyfully embraced by Julia herself. And Michael Gambon offers a quiet heartbeat of a performance as Julia’s acting coach, whose memory and advice influence her every move: “You have to grab the audience by the throat and say ‘Now you buggers, you pay attention to me!” And Julia, you have our attention, in art and in life.