Sunday, January 13, 2013
Silver Linings Playbook
A few days ago they announced the 2013 Academy Awards nominees, and a certain Indie Romantic Comedy named "Silver Linings Playbook" managed to score no less than eight nominations, including all four acting categories. Some people, as always, are upset that the Oscars were once again picking mainly Oscar-bait movies and ignoring B-movies, superhero films, and other assorted Blockbusters, like they do every year. "Silver Linings Playbook" has already gotten some flack for being picked by the Academy for being an off-beat choice that would distinguish itself from the traditional Oscar fair, while actually being incredibly generic. I'm not going to discuss Oscar politics, we have a post for that coming soon enough.
Instead we're going to talk about "Silver Linings Playbook". And honestly, there isn't much to say about "Silver Linings Playbook". Its a Romantic Comedy, and despite having a great deal of ambition for a movie in that genre, it ultimately becomes little more than a Romantic Comedy. Rom Coms are a genre like any other, there are expectations to achieve. Feminine people love them for how they hit their expectations, ultimately following a pre-set genre story and concluding in predictable ways. Here I like just as generic and predictable Giant Monster movies, slashers, and space opera films. Some people like to eat lots of ice cream and cry while watching Katherine Heigl in some shitty movie where she falls in love with Gerard Butler, and I sit down and eat cheese balls while watching Godzilla beat up Gigan in a movie just as shitty. The difference here, is that "Silver Linings Playbook" actually had a lot of promise to be something a bit more than a Rom Com, and it wasn't.
It began as something of a very dark drama dealing with some serious mental illness problems, and perhaps even attempting to realistically tie in those psychological conflicts with family issues and maybe get a love story in on the side. Then the movie started to drop the realism. The plot grew less dark and more contrived, until finally with a big dance routine that somehow solves everybody's problems. Characters stopped acting like they have been set up, and start treating what is seriously disturbed pathological and manipulative behavior into charming "oh, she really does love me" moment. I kept expected the dark realism to shuffle back into the plot, and for the movie to make a dramatic turn back into the harsh realities it does not want to face, but it never does. I'd say at best, "Silver Linings Playbook" has a great deal of good moments, especially Jennifer Lawrence's healthy figure in skimpy dance cloths, but unless you're looking for a date movie, you can skip this.
"Silver Linings Playbook" begins with Bradley Cooper being taken out of a mental institution, where he has spent the last eight months after nearly killing a fellow teacher who was sleeping with his wife. Cooper is deeply bipolar and prone to sudden explosive triggers of rage once he thinks back to his wife's infidelity. When in a manic state, Cooper begins spitting out his plans to get his wife and restart his marriage with a bright positive outlook on life. This is little more than an obsessive delusion, since the wife has a restraining order out on him, and if he crosses within fifty feet or her or tries to contact him in anyway, he goes right back to the Cuckoo House. But Cooper also becomes dangerously violent, and at any point in this movie he could explode at his elderly parents or his co-stars. He refuses to take his medication, has furious outbursts to the end of Hemmingway novels, can only barely function socially, and seems to have a tenuous, at best, grip on reality.
Trying to help Bradley Cooper to get back on his feet is his elderly mother, played by Jacki Weaver and obsessive-compulsive father, played by Robert De Niro. De Niro has become a sports Bookie, and spends most of this movie on the couch demanding that Cooper be his good luck charm so that the Eagles can win*. Or his parents have the exasperated realization that they can barely control their son, who is constantly skirting close to breaking the law and landing right back in jail. Neither performance is exactly Oscar-worthy... which is odd since they are both nominated for Academy Awards.
The main relationship in the movie is between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who is proving in this movie that's far too good to be wasted in preteen adventure flicks like "The Hunger Games". She's lifting quite a bit of dramatic muscle here, it isn't the best performance of the year, but its decent stuff. And Lawrence is beautiful enough that you would never get sick of seeing her face. Jennifer Lawrence is a nymphomaniac widow who is at least as psychologically damaged as Bradley Cooper, and their psychic injuries bring them together. Lawrence claims that she can get a letter to Bradley Cooper's wife in exchange for taking part in a dance routine, which is at best manipulative behavior that is exploiting the man's delusions, and is at worst... what it turns out to be. If "Silver Linings Playbook" were a better movie I wouldn't spoil it, but what the hey, Jennifer Lawrence is lying about passing notes to Bradley Cooper's wife. Also Cooper's Mom is apparently feeding Jennifer Lawrence information about his actions, though exactly why is never clear to me. Eventually Bradley Cooper and Lawrence have a twisted kind of non-consummated romance, which somehow completely cures Bradley Cooper's illness almost immediately. Its like she just flips a switch inside his head, making him all better through the power of love. Which might be fine for some who aren't expecting much, but its absolute crap.
Also, did you know that when you take psychological medication, you don't suffer any side effects at all and are immediately cured? Because there you go. And if your psychologist is a huge Eagles fan, its perfectly fine for you to hang out with him socially.
Later on the in movie, Bradley Cooper discovers that Jennifer Lawrence has been lying about pretty much everything. At this point, based upon the reality the movie has set up, one would expect Bradley Cooper's character to suffer a massive psychological break, and violently confront Jennifer Lawrence. Even if Cooper wasn't bipolar, violent, and delusional, in the real world, only a saint would want anything to do with Jennifer Lawrence's character anymore, and a normal person would be angry at her for being a sick bitch. Cooper instead takes this as cute "oh she loves me but she can't bring herself to say it" behavior and goes along with a lie that his wife is going to show up at their big dance show. This is a lie that the entire family concocts in order to get Bradley Cooper to dance so they can win back a lot of money to pay back Robert De Niro's gambling debts. This guy is fragile! This is just sick behavior, it isn't charming. And a smarter movie would be able to work something in with character's like this. This should be like a Chekhov drama, not "She's All That".
So of course there's the huge dance scene. And even the camera guy can't get his eyes away from Jennifer Lawrence's ass, because it is almost worth of the price of admission alone. They manage to win the dance even after Jennifer Lawrence drinks two horrendously tall glasses of straight vodka. Personally I can't even dance without some vodka in me, but I doubt I'd have any coordination at all after sucking down what appeared to be fifteen shots in five minutes. Whatever, its Hollywood. And what's even more Hollywood is Bradley Cooper's wife showing up to the dance show, Bradley Cooper rejecting her, and chasing after Jennifer Lawrence in the street for a big kiss.
I guess I'm selling "Silver Linings Playbook" rather short, since it isn't that bad of a movie. It was a movie with a weak plot and I figure the actors, the director, and the production staff did all they could with it. Jennifer Lawrence's character might have her issues, but she's also the strongest personality in this movie, shockingly clever, and most erotically, a huge sports fan. Bradley Cooper brings a lot, managing to be a very disturbed character but still somebody with a wildly optimistic outlook on life and somebody struggling with real problems that should have been handled with more care than simply disappearing when the movie needed to be cute. The smaller characters turn out to be some of the more interesting, such as Cooper's Indian psychologist who is an Eagles freak. And there's Chris Tucker, in his least annoying role yet, as Cooper's friend from the mental hospital who curiously has no mental problems of any kind. I kept waiting for Chris Tucker to turn out to be a serial killer or for him to commit suicide to remind us just how serious Cooper's problems were... but that only would only happen in a smarter movie.
Maybe the Academy was fooled, by the NFL wasn't. I think there are only two shots of a television actually showing football, and its off the background and slightly blurred. Within Robert De Niro's living room, the camera is carefully placed away from the TV so as to not show any lawsuit-inspiring football, a visit to an Eagles game never gets passed the parking lot, and somehow they managed to hide the NFL logo on every jersey. How do you make a football movie without any football? I dunno.
If you want to see a Rom Com, you could do much worse than "Silver Linings Playbook". Mostly the movie is about attractive people in love with each other (even if they are about twenty years apart in age, Lawrence is my age), and not much more despite its interesting pretensions. If you like Bradley Cooper, if you like Jennifer Lawrence's ass, if you like romantic comedies, maybe its worth seeing. But beyond that... I really don't have much to say.
* "Silver Linings Playbook" makes the deeply mistaken assumption that the Eagles were going to be anything other than horrifically awful all season. Not that I'm all that mournful, I hate the Eagles. However, do not accuse me of bringing that bias into this movie, since I can respect any working class family obsessed with football - that's basically describing my entire family right there.
The Ravens and Joe Flacco can suck my balls, by the way, this was the Broncos' year, and they stole it, the bastards.