Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook seems to exist as two separate entities- as a film and as an idea.

As a film, it seems a little structurally unsound. We follow Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who’s just been released from eight months in a mental institution after suffering a violent episode. On the slow and bumpy road to recovery, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) a woman with her own host of troubles and the two of them begin an odd friendship. The bulk of Silver Linings Playbook places a focus on dialogue above all else. Characters talk at unreal speeds and often shout above each other’s lines, creating a hyper-kinetic sense where it’s often difficult to make out what a single character is really saying. The camera is just as jittery, and the combination of the two creates a powerful sense of unease, as though the film itself is unable to control its own thoughts. This perfectly syncs up with Pat’s condition, especially so when he is almost always present onscreen- there’s only between a minute to a minute and a half of scenes his character isn’t involved in.

So as Pat and Tiffany’s relationship develops, it does so in the context of a dialogue-driven character piece. Yet as the film nears its end, a dance contest introduced previously quickly becomes the focal point of the film- the stakes are elevated dramatically and whole lives soon become embroiled in the contest. To take a film that purposefully has little direction and give it a clear, concise road to an ending is jarring at first, and takes a few minutes to adjust to. Eventually, the ending becomes enjoyable in its own right (if somewhat saccharine) but it’s at odds with the majority of the film. There seems to be some great stylistic clash between Silver Linings Playbook and its ending, and while both are satisfying on their own, they never connect in the way they should.

However, were you to view the film as one big metaphor for Pat’s mental illness, everything suddenly clicks into place. The early portions are directionless because Pat’s life lacks direction, and when Tiffany introduces a clear and well-defined goal into his life, it gives him purpose and drives him towards a place where he can really be happy. The abrupt change in film style reflects the change in Pat’s life, and because nearly every moment of the film is shown from his perspective, it’s only natural that his perspective (and thus, the film) would change dramatically.

In judging whether or not Silver Linings Playbook‘s grand metaphor can overcome such an abrupt shift in tone and narrative, it’s hard not to compare it unfavorably to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love. Anderson’s film features a similar mental illness love story but does so without resorting to an ideal Hollywood ending. One could even describe Silver Linings (with a surprising degree of accuracy) as three quarters Punch Drunk Love and one quarter Little Miss Sunshine. However, the caliber of the performances and the consistent vein of humor running through the film helps keep the final act of the film from feeling like an entirely separate entity, and ultimately the power of Silver Linings Playbook as an idea helps to fill in the cracks left by Silver Linings Playbook as a film.

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8 responses to “Silver Linings Playbook

  1. I just can’t understand the critical acclaim for SLP. For me, it was a completely average rom com – the addition of mental illness did nothing to elevate it. It wasn’t a bad film. But it was ok, nothing more. I hadn’t thought of it in relation to Punch Drunk Love but you’re right, it suffers badly in comparison.

    • While I agree that the rom com elements drag it down, I still think the mental illness aspect does give the film an intelligent leg to stand on. Perhaps if the ending had been a bit more cohesive, those elements could have stood out more.

  2. Nice review. I was really surprised how much I enjoyed this one. I had a problem with the ending as well, which I found to be predictable, but Russell got some strong performances out of his actors.

    • I completely agree about the performances. I’m not a particularly big fan of Bradley Cooper, but his performance here definitely caught me off guard. Good stuff.

  3. In fairness to the movie, it’s taking those weak points directly from the book. Meandering off into a dance contest that just happens and vanishes without any lasting effect on the characters or the plot? Check. Story seen entirely through Pat’s eyes? Check. Sudden rush in the last ten pages to Fix Everything so we can have an officially happy ending? Oh yes, check, and if only we had left out the stupid dance contest to leave space for a more nuanced improvement and wrapup.

    The only thing the book gets absolutely right is the geography of Collingswood, the small south Jersey town where Pat and his family live. (I believe the movie relocated them across the river to Philadelphia.) And while it’s mildly amusing to trace Pat’s running routes and think “Okay, past the high school to the Black Horse Pike, up Kendal Boulevard into Oaklyn, yes, I can see that, on past the Manor Bar on the White Horse Pike to Cuthbert Boulevard and on past Crystal Lake Diner, sure, that’s right, boy, that’s a long run, wow, Pat nearly ran past my house” – well, if you don’t live around here, who cares?

  4. The original Silver Linings Playbook is underrated – what a fabulous book. True story, set in Philadelphia. You cannot dive into it without feeling empathetic for Patrick and the tragedies which have been laid upon him. I am excited to see the film, and have enjoyed reading this review!

  5. Thanks for the review – great writing skills.

    I thought SLP was a well-made, entertaining film. I think that it’s a great shame that Jennifer Lawrence one an Oscar for her role. She was absolutely stunning in Winter’s Bone and, to me, it smacked of them giving her the belated Oscar for that performance rather than this one in SLP.

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