Too many films are set in Philadelphia and Boston, usually for the wrong reason. Both cities have passion and character, but they also have fairly noticeable speech patterns. I suspect some actors want to play characters from those cities only to make the audience say, “Wow, what a great (Boston or Philadelphia) accent!” After about five minutes, that’s over and we’re forced to endure the rest of the “local flavor.” Two weeks ago I listened to one of my favorite radio show hosts spouting about how Silver Linings Playbook totally “nailed the whole Delaware Valley thing.” To me, it’s like when a band comes on stage and yells, “Hello New York!” Then, two nights later, it’s, “Hello Cleveland!” It’s a cheap way to get applause. Going into this film, that’s where I was. Coming out, I was somewhere else.
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) leaves work early and comes home to surprise his wife Nikki. Instead, he is surprised by his wife – and a co-worker – together in the shower. When the co-worker says, “I think you should go,” Pat does go. He goes nuts and beats the crap out of the guy, resulting in an 8-month psychiatric sentence through a plea bargain. Eight months later, he returns home to his obsessive-compulsive father, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro) and innocent-bystander and enabling mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver). Pat’s plan to win back his wife is based on “Excelsior,” which loosely translates to “onward and upward.” Instead of medication, he’s now a workout fiend. He’s lost a great deal of weight, and he is remaining positive to impress his ex. However, small things will still set him off, like his wedding song or depressing literature that causes him to throw A Farewell to Arms through a window at 3 in the morning.
Upon his return to his Philly neighborhood, he soon reconnects with longtime pal Ronnie and his wife Veronica. Although Ronnie didn’t know Pat was out of the psychiatric hospital until he jogged past the house, somehow Ronnie knew that Veronica had invited Pat to dinner. It was an obvious dialogue flaw, but I laughed and moved on. Veronica is friends with Pat’s ex-wife Nikki, who has a restraining order prohibiting Pat from communicating with her. Veronica has a sister Tiffany who has her own behavioral issues but is willing to help Pat break the law and get a letter to Nikki – provided he is willing to be her partner in a dance contest.
Silver Linings Playbook, based on the novel by Matthew Quick, is a dysfunctional Rocky story. It’s about making a commitment and actually living up to it, whether that commitment is being a husband, a wife, a father, or a friend. It’s about doing the best you can with what you’ve been given, even if what you’ve been given is a stunted upbringing from a father who blames you and calls you “Loser!” because you not only caused his team to lose a big game but you also made him lose thousands of dollars – all by not sitting in the correct chair. This is partly why I can forgive director David Russell (Anchorman, I Heart Huckabees) for setting the story in Philly. I live ten minutes from Philly, and I know fully well how insane many Eagles fans can be. I’ve been in the parking lot before games, and if the home team loses, there is no doubt in their minds it’s because someone didn’t park in the usual spot.
Ronnie and Veronica, a married couple you will so want to punch because of how they are completely obsessed with themselves, invite Pat and Veronica’s sister Tiffany to dinner. Tiffany has her own issues. After her husband was killed by a passing car while changing a tire on a highway, Tiffany became a sex addict. When her acceptance issues are combined with Pat’s anger issues, there’s nothing but edge-of-your-seat fireworks. They shout, curse, and spit at each other while jogging around the neighborhood. They tell sex stories and throw dishes on a diner floor on their first date. This was one of the most unpredictable films I have ever seen, and I’m usually good at predicting what happens next. I got one right out of about 20 different guesses. It was not an important victory, but victory is what Silver Linings Playbook is all about.
Small victories are still victories. Whether it is going through a day without breaking something or being on time for dance rehearsal, it is still a victory. For Pat who is trying to do all the right things to win back his wife, each victory is a step closer to the true love he still carries. However, each of those steps that bring Pat closer to Nikki is also a step further that Pat gets from Tiffany, a woman who feels unwanted and will – unfortunately – done pretty much everything we can imagine just to have someone pay a little extra attention to her. She doesn’t seem to want to fall in love with anyone, especially not someone who shouts how crazy she is in front of a line of people outside a movie theater or patrons in a diner. But what draws her to Pat is exactly what she doesn’t want – to be ignored. The more Pat focuses on winning Nikki, the more Tiffany can be sure that Pat isn’t interested in just getting her in bed like everyone else who has gotten close to her, including a few female co-workers.
Jennifer Lawrence was about 10th in line to play Tiffany, and that’s too bad for the other 9, which include Anne Hathaway (who backed out because of her commitment to The Dark Knight Rises), Elizabeth Banks, Angelina Jolie, Rachel McAdams, and Olivia Wilde. Lawrence’s audition was a favor from the director because he was certain she was too young for the part. After seeing what she had given, he knew he had no choice but to make it work. The chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence is explosive from their first meeting. As Pat and Tiffany equally admit, they “have no filter” when they speak, and all the wrong – but honest – things spill out. Those wrong things hurt, but at least they know where they stand with each other.
Going in I also thought DeNiro’s role as Pat’s father was little more than a favor to someone by attaching his name to the project. However, DeNiro as Pat Sr. is like what is called the “unreliable narrator” in literature. That’s when the words literally tell you one thing, and you (but not the character) can tell that something else is the truth. Pat Sr. is out of work and turns to gambling to not just keep afloat but raise enough money to open a restaurant. His superstitions are extreme, and he believes the “juju” will be wrong if his son doesn’t watch the game by his side. This is true in the father’s mind, but what is also true is his ability to simultaneously accept and reject partial blame for his son’s issues with anger and violence. While he verbally blames his son for messing everything up, his posture and facial expressions tell a different story.
I only went to this film because of the eight Oscar nominations in the most important categories that I thought belonged elsewhere and to reinforce my dislike for Philly and Boston films. However, I can admit when I’m wrong.
9 out of 10 stars – 1 star deducted for sports continuity errors.