Silver Linings Playbook is another ode to self-actualization as the true path to understanding the fullest potential of your inner narcissist. Recently released from a court-mandated eight-month stay in a mental institution after a fight with his estranged wife’s lover, Pat (Bradley Cooper) returns to his childhood home in an understandable effort to take stock of his life. His father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), wants him to take his meds and relax and watch the Eagles games on TV, but Pat’s intent on winning his wife back. Jogging obsessively, having apparently come into his Bradley Cooperish good looks recently as a result of exercise, Pat has devoted himself to a vague “silver linings” concept of self-help in an effort to becoming his wife’s ideal man.
To writer-director David O. Russell’s credit, he understands that most of Pat’s desperately cobbled-together new beliefs are ridiculous, and he bluntly parodies them until it’s no longer convenient to the arc of the insipidly inspirational story he intends to tell. Russell has never been an elegant director, and he’s always been irritatingly self-conscious about his penchant for genre films, but he has talent, particularly for staging scenes with a lively, chaotic energy that conveys emotional unity and discord among his characters, as his best films, Flirting with Disaster and The Fighter, illustrate. But Silver Linings Playbook collapses in a fashion that’s not entirely dissimilar from the filmmaker’s I Heart Huckabees.
Silver Linings Playbook is a conventional love story tarted up with a few “modern” touches, such as the references to bipolar disorder and the long, long scenes in which the camera whips, in a transparent bid for gritty credibility, around characters as they scream at one another witlessly. The film flails about, as we already know that Pat isn’t going to reconcile with his wife; she isn’t the female lead after all. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) appears 30 minutes in, and it’s immediately apparent that her eccentricities are meant to complement Pat’s, as she’s prickly, brokenhearted, and resents the middle-class life her family favors. The two—rudely, smugly—take to discussing various mental-illness medications in front of Tiffany’s family at the dinner table, and we’re meant to cheer them for their brave refusal to conform to the usual hypocritical yuppy bullshit.
But, of course, Pat and Tiffany want the same bullshit, but they’re hurting, and so they need to feel superior and different from everyone else in order to rationalize having lost what they really want. That’s fertile ground for a great contemporary romance, one that could address the lame pretensions of so many current boutique rom-coms, but Russell succumbs to the same fashionable posturing, ultimately taking his characters’ damaged philosophies at face value. As a film about people processing pain and grappling with illness, Silver Linings Playbook is less insightful (and more convoluted) than an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, and, as a romance, it’s shrill and aggressive.
The tonal inconsistencies underline the film’s off-putting one-sidedness. Pat’s welfare is the only true element of concern, and the ill effects of his nonsense on Tiffany and his family are mostly disregarded. Pat’s behavior is legitimately difficult to watch at times, but Tiffany, who’s been through greater hardship, is only difficult in that feisty way that might inspire a man to say that she’s “a handful” as he licks his lips. Tiffany’s yet another incarnation of the screwed-up straight-male fantasy of the great tolerant babe. Everything we learn about her has been planted to turn male audiences on: She’s promiscuous, bisexual, sassy, and can fill out a pair of tights like no one’s business. She’s also in love with Pat at first sight, and follows him around, nipping at his heels, until he deigns to take her seriously. The film’s caveman sexual politics would be appalling if they weren’t dull and embarrassing (Russell even appropriates, without irony, the hoary cliché of the camera that does a 360-degree turn around the lovers as they finally kiss.) You watch the film concerned for Tiffany all right, but not for the reasons Russell intends.
The film has an aesthetic, clearly informed by cinéma vérité, that emphasizes handheld camera movement and natural lighting. Logically, the image quality is intentionally somewhat variable, but this transfer preserves an impressive amount of visual detail, and the grainy shades of autumnal color are often lovely when David O. Russell bothers to keep the camera still for a few consecutive seconds. The sound is well-mixed, particularly in scenes, such as the climactic dance-off, that call for the subtle presentation of varying background noises.
Surprisingly, the deleted scenes, which compile nearly 30 minutes of discarded or alternate material, are the most informative supplement, as they testify to the considerable balancing act that Russell faced in corralling the story’s varying moods and tones into a workable and coherent whole. The Q&A featurette affirms this impression and suitably answers a number of the traditional questions regarding a film’s inception. "Silver Linings Playbook: The Movie That Became a Movement" is a making-of testimonial that’s typical but painless, though it’s notable for featuring a ringing endorsement from TV’s Dr. Oz, who praises the film for making mental illness relatable to the public (and thus partially explaining why it doesn’t work). There are also a few consciously silly extras, such as "Going Steadicam with Bradley Cooper," that show the cast and crew working and horsing around. Nothing special here, but a decent-enough package.
Fans of David O. Russell’s oddly unpleasant wish-fulfillment fantasy should be pleased by this solid Blu-ray transfer.