Sunday, February 10, 2013

Silver Lining Playbook: Love and Other Broken Things

In preparation for the Oscars on February 24th, we decided to do a post on each of the Best Picture Nominees, along with maybe a few other shows we liked. For the next two weeks we'll try to run a post about every other day on each of the nominees. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Best Picture Roundup: Silver Linings Playbook | Argo | Les Mis | Life of Pi | Beasts of the Southern Wild | Lincoln | Django Unchained | Zero Dark Thirty | Amour

Silver Linings Playbook is a story about love and broken things, and how the two relate in sometimes unexpected ways. The movie begins as Pat, played with on-the-edge intensity by Bradley Cooper, checks out of a mental facility after a violent incident triggered by his wife's infidelity several months before. He returns to his parents' house to rebuild his life, his psyche, and his marriage.

Jennifer Lawrence is in it too. We'll get to her.

Through flashbacks and dialogue we learn brief snippets about Pat's marriage, which was cracking long before it (and he) fell apart. Pat, seemingly oblivious to this, is determined to fix everything. He still loves his wife, and the movie's plot is driven by his attempts to communicate with her despite a restraining order. Pat is a broken man. He is prone to angry, irrational mood swings and is unaware of what is obvious to everyone else: that his wife no longer wants anything to do with him. But in his own mind, he's able to fix everything if only he can find a way to talk to his wife and prove that he's changed.

In the course of things he meets Tiffany, played with wonderful acerbity by Jennifer Lawrence. She too is broken, having sought solace from her husband's recent death in her own brand of self-destruction, which mainly consists sleeping-around with any and every willing partner, including most of her (ex) co-workers. Only Pat, blinded by foolish optimism in the future of his own marriage, does not take advantage of her.

All this makes the movie sound much darker than it actually is. It's actually hilarious, particularly in the testy and sometimes bizarre interactions between Pat and Tiffany. It's no spoiler to say that a bond forms between the two, but the way it plays out is surprising. This is a comedy and there is romance, but it's not a rom-com. Even in the most ridiculous scenes there is an undercurrent of hurt, of brokenness, which keeps the movie grounded and genuine. This goes for the supporting characters as well, from Pat's obsessive-compulsive bookie and diehard Eagles fan of a father to his best friend whose seemingly idyllic upper-middle class life hides an unhappy marriage. Pat and Tiffany are only unique in that their damage is more evident than the others.

And Jennifer Lawrence is bloody brilliant

I said that there is romance, but love is not the answer in Silver Linings Playbook. Not the only one, at least, and not always. Much like director David O. Russell's previous film, The Fighter, love in Playbook is as much a destructive force as a healing one. In The Fighter the love of a close-knit family enabled one character's drug abuse and delusions of grandeur to destroy him. In Playbook love is what drives Pat and Tiffany to nearly ruin their lives. Love (and superstitious trust) compels Pat's father to make the very stupid bet that leads to the movie's third act.

So in the world of Silver Linings Playbook, as in real life, love is a broken thing too, sometimes tragically and sometimes hilariously. It is also what ties everything together in the end, for better or worse. I won't spoil the movie's ending, but I thought it was great. Broken things can't always be fixed, but sometimes they can find and share enough pieces to create something new, something close enough to whole. That message, at the heart of a very funny and brilliantly acted movie, is why I loved it so much.