How To Talk About Loving Silver Linings Playbook

Best Pictures is a short series about this year’s Academy Award-nominated films.


To: Jane Hu
From: Kevin Nguyen
Subject: SLP

Jaaaane!

I absolutely adored this movie. And for the past week, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen how much I liked it. But here’s the problem I run into: I have a hard time explaining what works so well about the movie. Here are a few unconvincing statements I’ve made about Silver Linings Playbook:

  • “It’s earnest and not condescending in its portrayal of mental illness.”
  • “There is a terrific dance scene.”
  • “Bradley Cooper is great in it.”
  • “I cried a little bit at the end.”

I can’t even explain the title of the movie without making it sound stupid. (“Bradley Cooper’s character always tries to see the silver linings… in things…”)

You’re a lot more eloquent than I am. How can I spread the gospel of Silver Linings Playbook without sounding like an idiot?

Kevin


To: Kevin Nguyen
From: Jane Hu
Subject: RE: SLP

You must have some classy friends, Kevin. Is a Best Picture Oscar nomination not reason enough? I’m half-joking, but with such biases for inclusion in that particular category, the fact that a comedic drama about family such as Silver Linings Playbook was nominated is significant. David O. Russell’s film contains multitudes, citing some of the best elements of 1940s Hollywood (screwball elements of The Lady Eve, The Philadelphia Story, Ball of Fire) while Jay Cassidy’s ingenuous cinematography never lets us forget it’s specific setting of 2008 Philadelphia.

But I do think you’ve pinpointed a main problem regarding access to the film. Dana Stevens wrote in her review that Silver Linings Playbook, like Russell’s film before it, The Fighter, “have setups that sound conventional, even sentimental, on paper.” That could easily discourage some of your more discriminating friends from seeing the film, but, for me, the simple inclusion of “Playbook” in the title was enough. (I shy away from sports films like other people dodge movie musicals.) But while Silver Linings Playbook does have its share of scenes about sports, the “playbook” in question actually refers to the steps in Pat Solitano’s (played by Cooper) plan to get better, after he’s released from a psych ward. Pat has a script, but his attempts to follow — and his divergence from — it are where all the wonderfully messy and magically surprising moments occur in this film. It’s immensely rewarding, while still nervy and sad.

What begins as conventional — as quite literally “by the book” (Pat has his script within Russell’s script, which is based on an actual book by Matthew Quick) — quickly turns into anything but. Critics have been speaking of the film in terms of the romantic comedy as if such a thought were a revelation, but instead of reading Russell’s Playbook as classic textbook rom-com, what if we looked at how it takes the traditional love-plot and expands it (this is, as those 1940s films could attest, what rom-coms have been doing all along). As you say, the film is earnest, but never condescending; so to condescend to the film would be exactly to act antithetically to the spirit of Silver Linings Playbook. Pat is an optimist, perhaps even destructively so, but this only makes me hope more, not less, for him throughout the film.

I don’t know if you’re a crier, Kevin, but if we’re still judging films by how many tissues one requires to watch them, there’d be no contest. What’s more, the scene of emotional release is preceded almost immediately by one of its funniest moments. That dance scene you were talking about! I don’t want to give the routine away, but let’s just say its climax was deeply satisfying and deeply hilarious. This is representative of how the realism of Silver Linings plays out — comedy is always built into adversity. The possibility of silver linings can’t exist without the fact of hardships.

I laughed, I cried, but more precisely, I laughed and cried. By the end, I couldn’t distinguish the two impulses. You mentioned the portrayal of mental illness and, as someone with firsthand experience, those moments settled hard and stayed with me long after the film ended. That’s possibly why I didn’t mind the ending so much, which many saw as a copout — like the marriage between Dexter and Tracy that concludes The Philadelphia Story, an ending doesn’t necessarily cancel out all the wonderful moments that precede it. When Pat and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) start shedding and sparing with their all their craggy edges, I might have cringed, though I never looked away. That is the generosity of the film, I think, for it never means to exploit or alienate these characters’ psychoses through some act of cinematic showing, but instead introduced and even included them into the viewer’s world by telling their story.

But to answer your question about how to best express your adoration for Silver Linings Playbook, you could just retweet Bret Easton Ellis: