Thursday, October 25, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook, A Review

Just saw this movie as a "special screening" with the writer of the novel in attendance for a post-flick Q&A. Really a very good film, and worth seeing.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a Philly man who is just being released from a mental hospital as the movie opens. He's been in for 8 months as a plea bargain for "an incident"--he came home early from work one day to find his wife in the shower with another man, and nearly beat the man to death. He's signed out by his mother AMA--against medical advice, and brought back to his parent's house.

Pat's dad is Robert DeNiro, a man who has his own issues with OCD and anger management. Dad has lost his job and is making money by running bets on Eagles football games. The family dynamic among the three of them is toxic and extremely believable--they are all trying to be heard over each other, all desperate to be understood, to connect, and they set each other off in the worst ways.

Pat's wife has distanced herself over the 8 months of the hospital stay, sold the house, and gotten a restraining order against her husband. Pat is convinced that he can pull himself back together, get healthy, get his job back, and reconcile with his wife. Then he meets Tiffany, the sister-in-law of his best friend.

Tiffany has her own issues--she's a very young widow of a cop, who acted out her grief by inappropriate sexual activity. She's living in a renovated garage behind her own parents' house, and she and Pat have a prickly relationship based on their inappropriate responses to their own wounds.

They are attracted, but damaged, and married to other people--more or less. In the end, Tiffany agrees to pass a letter to Pat's wife (which would violate the restraining order) but Pat has to agree to be her partner in a dance competition. Meanwhile, Pat's dad is trying to make enough money from bookmaking to open a restaurant, and he's convinced that if Pat will watch the games with him, the Eagles will win.

The final showdown happens after Dad makes an incredibly ill-considered bet and then blames Pat and his dancing with Tiffany as the cause of the Eagle's loss. (Like I said, Dad has mental problems too.) There is a "double or nothing parlay"--if the Eagles win against the Cowboys on December 28 and Pat and Tiffany score a 5/10 points in their dance competition, the restaurant dream will be saved.

Things get worse--Pat figures out that Tiffany wrote the letter supposedly from his wife, the wife shows up at the dance competition so Tiffany gets drunk, the competition is professional and the grading is really really hard--how is this going to work out?

There is a bit of Too Much Coincidence--the Eagles win their football game exactly as Tiffany and Pat are called to dance, the final score is exactly a 5, Pat's wife actually shows up and they manage to talk without any hostility at all, the bet itself is nonsensical--but it doesn't really matter. I was caught up and deeply engaged. Things end up happily, and the movie ends with all the characters at Mom and Dad's house to watch the Eagles in the playoffs.

I have never been a Bradley Cooper fan--he just is too fratty for my taste. I've never thought he was quite as handsome as he seemed to think he was, he was just a bit too smirky for my taste. Here, he is manic, he is uncontrolled, he is abashed, he is ineffectual, he is inappropriate, but he is sincere. There is nary a smirk in the entire movie.

As Tiffany, Jennifer Lawrence is brittle and damaged and fiesty and challenging and amazing. She is also so beautifully shot--all creamy skin and tilted cheekbones and juicy curves--she might as well be sculpted from ice cream.

Matthew Quick wrote the novel that David O. Russell adapted for the screenplay, and his story was quite inspirational in a wonderfully way. A high school teacher for 7 years, he was miserable. So with his wife he quit his job, sold the house, and moved to Massachusetts to live with his in-laws and spend the next three years in the basement trying to be a writer. "And I never in a million years imagined that the Weinstein Company would fly me around the country to talk to audiences about a movie." He talked about the way that writing a book is such a solitary endeavor and felt self-indulgent to do.

But then the actor who plays Bradley Cooper's therapist wrote him a letter. "And this guy has starred in like 400 Bollywood films, but he told me 'My dream has always been to work with Robert DeNiro.'" THAT is something Quick never imagined while writing in his in-laws' basement--that he would make somebody else's dream come true.

Definitely worth seeing.