Sunday, December 15, 2013
Silver Linings Playbook
David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” feels like a screwball comedy about the improbable subject of bi-polar disorder. The movie’s tone is manic, itself, and the script is wild;u voluble -- everyone talks a mile a minute and, at times, all the characters seem to be shouting at one another. Many of the scenes have the vibrancy and emotional energy of early Scorsese -- ethnic East Coast city-dwellers clashing in rooms that seem too small, the camera wiggling here and there through the controlled chaos. Although the premise of the film is fundamentally bogus, the picture’s romantic appeal carries the day, propelling the audience through a series of events, most of them ridiculously improbable, toward a happy ending that completely violates everything that we know about the characters. But this is the appeal of a film about love -- we want to see the characters triumph over adversity and fall into one another’s arms at the end of the movie and, since the romantic leads are compelling and attractive, deserving of happiness despite their flaws, we are willing to suspend disbelief and accept the film as a pleasant, even uplifting, fairy tale. Jennifer Lawrence, playing the damaged young widow Tiffany, carries the film -- her performance is so sexually enticing and magnetic that the movie breaks down your resistance: you are invested in her wild woman, outlaw act and the subtext of vulnerability that Lawrence brings to the foul-mouthed, sexually aggressive character is central to the film’s appeal. Russell’s direction and mise-en-scene is blatantly manipulative: everything revolves around a double climax involving a football game played simultaneously with a lavish dance contest. The heroine mistakes the hero’s intentions and, broken-hearted, flees onto the cold Philadelphia streets, only to be rescued at the last moment by Bradley Cooper, her dance-partner and the man she has labored to seduce throughout the entire picture. Cooper's character raising down the chilly Philadelphia streets to embrace Tiffany is the hoariest of movie cliches, but one that reliably stirs the audience. Before we reach the ending, there are montages scored to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s languorous duet, “Girl from the North Country,” lots of ferocious family squabbles, fist-fights, and all sorts of frenzied, mile-a-minute dialogue. The most effective tear-jerker of all time, “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” is deployed on the soundtrack at a key moment and there isn’t a dry eye in the house. It’s all shameless but compelling and I liked the picture. A moment’s thought, of course, will persuade you that contrary to the film’s narrative implications, having bi-polar disorder (or obsessive compulsive syndrome) is not much fun and the relationship between the two principal characters is doomed -- at least, doomed in a real world to which “Silver Linings Playbook” bears only a tangential relationship. But the picture’s blithe tone, and its last half, the can-do Rocky-style dance contest plot that completely contradicts the doom-ridden first half of the film, pretty much overcomes your objections. And, what the hell, the picture wasn’t really realistic to begin with -- the same Irish cop appears reliably every time the characters get into trouble and everyone is always fighting with everyone else and true love is always just around the corner. Robert DeNiro performs impressively as the manic-depressive hero’s father, clearly the genetic source of the mental illness afflicting Bradley Cooper’s character -- it’s DeNiro’s best work for years. Philadelphia is photogenic and the film’s climax, the camera snaking and gliding through the dance competition channels Scorsese’s moving camera in “Goodfellas” -- whip pans, expressionistic colors, and enormous, sexually charged close-ups. I'm not willing to believe that love cures bipolar disorder. But I'm willing to indulge fantasies of that kind.