For those of you who are too jaded to enjoy a good romantic comedy, stop reading now. If you like a by the numbers romance, go elsewhere for your entertainment, and if you are expecting happy endings in life, maybe this isn’t the film for you (or maybe, just maybe, it is).
Director David O. Russell’s follow up to The Fighter is the exquisitely funny and uniquely conceived romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook. It tells the story of former teacher Pat Solitano (a smashing Bradley Cooper) and his relationship with Tiffany (always outstanding Jennifer Lawrence), as they find a way to connect in the hopelessness of loss and despair.
Pat is a bipolar fellow who has just been released from a mental institution where he was sent after severely beating the man whom he caught having sex in the shower with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee), while their wedding song (“My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder) was playing on the stereo. Nikki has a restraining order but that doesn’t stop Pat from wanting to see her and get back with her, but she has moved away and there is seemingly no way to connect with her again.
Enter Tiffany, a young widow who lost her police officer husband in a traffic accident. Tiffany handled her grief by becoming a nymphomaniac, and half of the town seems to be texting her for an encounter. She is trying to stop this behavior when she meets Pat at her sister’s house, and they start to form a stilted kind of friendship based on a love of jogging around the neighborhood.
Pat has moved back home to the suburbs of Philadelphia to live with his parents Pat and Dolores (Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver). These people are dealing with their own issues because the senior Pat has lost his job and is working as a bookmaker, with a goal to raise enough money to open a restaurant. Pat sleeps in his old room and reads A Farewell to Arms voraciously to the last page, and then reacts so violently to the ending that he throws the book through the bedroom window (Hemingway sometimes has a way of doing that to you).
Pat’s problem with the book is a microcosm for his issues with life: he wants a happy ending. He cannot process the fact that the lovers don’t make it in the end. This is not his view of life, and touches a nerve because of his situation with Nikki. The rest of the movie is basically about Pat trying to construct a new narrative for himself, one with a resoundingly happy ending; however, real life and his mental condition keep getting in his way.
Convinced that he can only find happiness with his ex-wife, Pat asks Tiffany to get a letter to her. Tiffany agrees if he helps her “with this thing.” Pat agrees and discovers that Tiffany is preparing for a dancing competition and needs a partner. He reluctantly starts to practice with her in order to get his letter delivered. As they get to know each other more closely, it is obvious that Tiffany has feelings for him, but Pat is still focused on Nikki as the prize and cannot see the sparks sizzling all over his dance partner.
There are so many hilarious moments here, among them when his friend Danny from the mental hospital (reliably funny Chris Tucker) comes to watch them dance (in a weird twist on what usually happens on Dancing with the Stars). Danny gets them to jazz things up a bit, and as Pat watches Danny dancing with Tiffany, some twinges of jealousy register on his face.
DeNiro’s Pat Senior is his best role in years. He imbues the father with his own pathology (he’s obsessive compulsive) and also has anger management issues like his son, so that apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. The relationship between father and son becomes intimately connected to football (dad is a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan), but this also has something to do with the bookmaking and a possibility of a big payday. Pat and Tiffany become entwined in a bet that will either bring dad huge winnings or sink him into debt forever.
Russell’s screenplay (based on Matthew Quick’s novel) is a layered and textured thing of beauty. There are so many nuances, connections made after it seems a thread has been left dangling, and every character has a moment that is authentic and clarifies not only his or her actions but adds to the overall story. As the relationship between Pat and Tiffany develops, we see them not so much as star-crossed lovers but passing ships in the night. The question remains throughout whether Pat will wake up and appreciate Tiffany for what she is before it is too late and their ships go off into different directions forever.
This film is a perfect tale for the fractured world in which we live. It doesn’t present us with perfect male and female leads but true to life people with real disabilities. Though the film is about two people with faults, they also have strengths that make them rise above their conflicts with each other and the world. They slowly find in one another a reason to go on, and thus they are not only good for each other emotionally but also spiritually. It is so refreshing to see a film that does not take the cookie cutter route to the denouement. We cannot be sure until the very last minutes how things will turn out, and you have to give Russell credit for making what is basically the anti-rom-com.
Since I don’t believe in spoilers, all I can say is that once you have seen the film you have to make the call as to how you handle the ending. Will you throw the book out the window or will you embrace it for what it is: simply the best romantic comedy of the year with lots of drama thrown in for effect.
Oh, and I guarantee you will never hear “My Cherie Amour” again and not think of Cooper’s Pat and his tortured face as he keeps hearing the song in his head. He certainly should win the Oscar for best actor, but being up against Daniel Day Lewis for his portrayal of Lincoln is like David going up against Goliath, but perhaps Cooper can master the slingshot. Maybe happy endings can happen after all.
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